Couple dies defending home in Chile



Santiago: An elderly couple whose family has long been targeted by Mapuche Indians in land disputes was on Friday killed in an arson attack while trying to defend their home, police said.

President Sebastian Pinera was flying to the scene in Chile's remote southern Araucania region with his Interior minister, who called it a terrorist act that will be severely punished.

Werner Luchsinger, 75, fired a weapon in self-defence, and struck a man from the nearby Mapuche community of Juan Quintrupil before his home burned to the ground, police chief Ivan Bezmalinovic said.

Luchsinger's wife Vivian McKay called relatives for help during the attack, but when they arrived just 15 minutes later the house was already in flames and she did not answer her phone, according to the victim's cousin, Jorge Luchsinger.

The attack began last night as one of many political protests around Chile commemorating the death five years ago of Mapuche activist Matias Catrileo, who was shot in the back by an officer who served a minor sentence and then rejoined the police.

The victims' Lumahue ranch is just 25 kilometres from the spot where Catrileo was killed on January 3, 2008.

Celestino Cordova Transito, 26, was detained near the scene early in the day. Police have him under arrest in a hospital in Temuco, where he was being treated for a gunshot wound in the neck, the chief said.

The Luchsinger family arrived in Mapuche territory from Switzerland in the late 1800s and benefited from the government's colonisation policies for decades thereafter, becoming one of the largest landowners in Chile's Patagonia region. Their forestry and ranching companies now occupy vast stretches of southern Chile, and impoverished Mapuches live on the margins of their properties.

The Mapuches have lodged many complaints of abuse of power by police in the area. The United Nation's Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, has denounced police violence, as has the Chile's official Human Rights Institute, and judges have ordered police to stop using teargas against women and children while raiding Mapuche communities in search of suspects.

PTI