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World News

Chile´s Pinera vows crackdown after nine-year-old injured by gunfire in Araucania

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean President Sebastian Pinera on Saturday highlighted an attack in the country´s Araucania region that resulted in the injury of a 9-year-old girl, saying it was a reason to crack down on violent unrest in Chile´s south.

FILE PHOTO: Chile's President Sebastian Pinera delivers speech during the inauguration of the annual National Meeting of Entrepreneurs (ENADE) in Santiago, Chile January 29, 2020. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

The region, long convulsed by simmering conflict between the indigenous Mapuche and the Chilean government, has seen a spike in arson attacks on trucks and factories in recent months.

Early on Saturday morning, a 9-year old girl was hit by a stray pellet when her father´s cement truck was attacked by at least four armed men on a local highway, police said.

“The example of this girl will help us maintain the strength...to find and punish the terrorists who hesitate at nothing, and are capable of injuring a 9-year-old girl,” Pinera said in a televised statement.

The child is currently being treated for serious injuries in a hospital in Temuco, in south-central Chile, local media reported.

It was not immediately clear who, if anyone, had claimed credit for the attack. Chile´s Public Ministry told reporters on Saturday it had launched an investigation.

Araucania is home to many of the 1.7 million indigenous Mapuche that live in Chile. Indigenous activists there say their lands are increasingly threatened by agriculture, forestry and other industries; they blame the state for failing to uphold their historical rights.

Militant groups who say they fight for Mapuche rights have claimed credit for some previous attacks on truck drivers and companies, police have said.

The conflict in Araucania has flared up in recent months, aggravated by the economic fallout resulting from coronavirus lockdown measures.

Last week, a United Nations Human Rights team confirmed it sent a fact-finding team to the region where jailed indigenous Mapuche leader Celestino Cordova has spent more than 100 days on hunger strike.

It said it had met police, prosecutors and business representatives, and indigenous leaders who laid allegations of forced evictions from council property, excessive or unnecessary use of force by the authorities and racial discrimination.

Reporting Dave Sherwood; Editing by Aurora Ellis

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