(Reuters) - Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera has promised the government will “spare no means” in investigating the fatal shooting of an indigenous Mapuche man during a confrontation with police that sparked widespread fury among locals, opposition members of parliament and rights groups.
Camilo Catrillanca Marin, 24, was shot in the head on Wednesday after police allegedly came under attack from automatic gunfire during an operation to detain a suspected gang of car thieves in a rural community near the town of Ercilla, 480 miles south of Santiago in the restive province of Araucania.
The Chilean police director general said it was unclear who shot Catrillanca, the grandson of an indigenous leader. Locals told Chilean media he had been herding cattle.
President Pinera defended his deployment of police special forces to the area, and promised a swift investigation into the “regrettable” incident.
“The government will spare no means to get to the truth of what happened, and has requested the exclusive deployment of a prosecutor to this case,” he said in a post on Twitter, adding “we reaffirm the right of police to pursue crimes and their right to defend themselves when attacked.”
Opposition parties and rights groups denounced the shooting as evidence of Pinera’s “militarization” of the region to settle conflicts between multinational logging firms and indigenous residents claiming the land belongs to them.
Center-right Pinera, who came to office in March, announced an action plan of infrastructure investment and support for local entrepreneurs and tourism.
He deployed a special forces police contingent trained in Colombia and nicknamed Jungle Command, to enforce anti-terrorism legislation that aims to stop arson attacks on industry.
Francisco Huenchumilla, an indigenous Mapuche senator with the Christian Democrats party, said the use of Jungle Command to combat common criminality was “absolutely disproportionate” and could inflame the situation.
Local media reported an arson attack on a church and the stoning of a farmers’ house in Ercilla, as well as road barricades set up following the fatal shooting.
A communique issued by Mapuche activists in the nearby community of Antonio Peñeipil de Galvarino, announced “three days of rebellion”.
“This death only reaffirms the just fight of our people for our usurped lands which today remain in the hands of forestry companies, the descendents of colonizers, tourism companies, hydroelectric plants, salmon producers and individuals who have irregularly seized possession,” the communique, seen by Reuters, read.
Reporting by Aislinn Laing; Editing by David Gregorio