Peru Premier and Interior Minister to face Congress on nature reserve eviction that led to death of two policemen

Premier Yehude Simon and Interior minister Remigio Hernani are to be answering questions in Congress today, regarding the death of two policemen last week during the eviction of squatters at the Pomac Historical Forest Sanctuary in northern Peru.

Two policemen were shot dead by snipers last Tuesday during the forced eviction of hundreds of squatters from the forest sanctuary, a week after Environment Minister Antonio Brack Egg called for firmness yet prudence.

When police moved inside the Pomac Forest in the early morning of Jan. 20 to forcibly remove squatters, who have been living and illegally felling carob trees there since 1992, a group of the squatters armed with assault rifles suddenly opened fire. The unexpected attack set off a 10-minute shoot-out between police and residents, leaving officers Fernando Hidalgo and Carlos Peralta dead.

Two squatters, Wilmer Delgado and Noé Mendoza, were arrested Jan.26 on charges of killing the policemen and are being held with 15 other squatters, held on different criminal charges.

“There was no improvisation, and there was intelligence, but we didn’t expect snipers to kill police officers,” said Interior Minister Remigio Hernani in comments to Radio Programas, RPP. “I have never, in 35 years, seen an eviction with snipers.”

“But then again,” Hernani said, “U.S. President Kennedy, with all the intelligence and all the super agents, was assassinated,” . Hernani’s comment immediately triggered a wave of criticism across Peru’s political spectrum, and opposition politicians are demanding that he resign.

According to daily El Comercio, the squatters who shot at police were part of a group called “the Rambos.”

The 10 former military agents were allegedly hired by the 200 families, who have been living on 1,700 hectares of the Pomac Forest, to deliberately ambush police as they entered the area.

By noon on the day of the eviction, police had regained control of the area, arrested several people, and seized two 16-caliber shotguns, one 38-caliber revolver and seven cartridges from the home of a squatter identified as Rios Perez.

The eviction was rapidly completed on Wednesday, as 700 armed police – including 100 snipers – backed by an armored car forcibly removed the remaining squatters in less than an hour. No other major incidents were reported.

“People didn’t offer any resistance,” said Dante Piaggio, an El Comercio photographer on location. “They are leaving their homes, scared and pleading (police) not to kick them off the land. There are approximately 150 people, mostly women, but there are also men and children.”

“We have achieved our objective,” said Dinoes director, Luis Muguruza.

The Pomac Forest Historical Sanctuary is located in Batán Grande, an archaeologically-rich area approximately 20 kilometers from Ferreñafe, or 30 kilometers from the north coast city of Chiclayo. The forest is a reserve for algarrobo trees (similar to the carob), birds, and varied flora, and the important pre-Inca funeral mounds or pyramids of the Sican Archaeological Project, directed by Izumi Shimada of Northern Illinois University.

Unfortunately, only 5,000 hectares of forested land remain within the sanctuary, because the now-evicted squatters logged carob trees for firewood and burned a large number to produce charcoal, both products for local use and for the wider barbecue market. Land was also being sold illegally.

The squatters became increasingly aggressive and several attemtps to evict them over the past decade never came to anything because of the fear of violent reprisals.

The eviction will allow the Environment Ministry to reclaim and reforest the land, as part of a larger nationwide tree-planting project which aims to plant 40 million trees by Feb. 20 to capture more than 570,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.

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