SANTIAGO, Chile, Nov. 27 (UPI) -- Chile has embarked on a procurement program to better equip its national police force and gendarmes for a crackdown on Mapuche rebels in the south-central regions of the country.
Senior officials said acquisition of advanced new military equipment for land and air operations was planned but gave no details of the arms buying program.
It is clear, however, that the Carabiniers will receive "enhanced equipment" for law enforcement operations in the troubled region, Interior Minister Andres Chadwick said after talks with national police commanders.
Chile's Carabiniers, formed in 1927, combine police and gendarmes and already use aircraft, helicopters and other military equipment for land and air operations.
Official comments left unclear whether the new equipment destined for the Carabiniers was in anticipation of further conflict or indicated a tougher stance adopted by the administration of President Sebastian Pinera after recent unrest.
Mapuche protests in Chile are centered on the campaigners' long-running battle to recover ancestral lands annexed in late 19th century. The Mapuche also want greater autonomy and less state interference in their rituals and traditions. Fewer than 1 million Mapuche inhabit south-central Chile.
Pinera's government has focused on modernizing the communities irrespective communities' preferences and discouraging dissent.
A better-equipped armed force will help the government in its preventive action and "provide better evidence in the corresponding courts," Chadwick said in a report in The Santiago Times.
Some of the equipment meant for the Carabiniers has been delivered to southern Chile's Araucania region and the rest should arrive before the end of the year, the newspaper said.
Chadwick, a first cousin of the president, has demonstrated a toughening position toward the Mapuche groups, warning the indigenous campaigners of relentless action until they agree to the government's way of dealing with their communities -- measures that many Mapuche reject.
In comments to reporters Chadwick appeared to blow hot and cold, promising to meet any Mapuche violence with an iron fist but also offering to be generous to those Mapuche activists who agree to a peaceful reconciliation.
Relations between the two sides remain fraught, despite Chadwick's calls to Mapuche to trust the government.
There was no immediate Mapuche comment on Chadwick's announcement that the government forces would be rearmed with more modern equipment.
The government, Chadwick said, aims to guarantee "public safety against those who decide to use violence with all the rigor of the law."
The government's response to Mapuche demands has been to offer indigenous communities land for development under an "indigenous area development" program.
The town of Ercilla in Malleco province of the Araucania region has been most affected by recent unrest.
Pinera visited the area after offering the land development deal but was greeted with further protests. Critics say the government offer isn't enough but Chadwick insists the program enjoys overwhelming support.
"The grand majority wants to take peaceful paths and we want to respond to those peaceful claims in order to address their legitimate demands," Chadwick said.
Since the indigenous development plans were unveiled 37 of Ercilla's 41 communities have accepted the program, Chadwick says.
Opponents of the program remain unmoved. Mapuche Territorial Alliance leader Juan Catrillanca told The Santiago Times he saw the government's indigenous development program as "a beautiful lie."
"They offer to return our territory because that's what we ask for but they'll never get the funds together to do it," Catrillanca told the newspaper. Since the program was enacted, Catrillanca said, he has "seen more violence on the part of the police."