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Ecuador investigates massacre reports

Published: 11:42PM Friday February 15, 2008 Source: Reuters

Ecuadorean authorities combed swaths of the Amazon jungle on Thursday looking for victims of a reported massacre of Indians by loggers, part of a long-running fight over land.

Local media and indigenous leaders said the loggers gunned down 15 Indians from the Taromenani tribe, which in the 1950s cut ties with rest of the country to protect their hunting and gathering customs.

Spear-wielding Indians have clashed with loggers armed with shotguns and machetes, but recent reports of massacres have not been substantiated.

"We have helped out in the investigation with helicopters and transportation into the jungle, but so far there is no proof to confirm any incident," said Gen. Fabian Narvaez, the commander of the army's Fourth division in the Amazon province of Orellana.

Attorney General Xavier Garaicoa called on other government authorities to confirm whether the massacre happened.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has vowed to protect Indian groups in the Amazon from oil development, illegal logging and poaching of rare tropical species.

Ecuador wants rich countries to pay $350 million a year in exchange for it not extracting 1 billion barrels of oil under the Yasuni reserve, where the tribe lives.

Quito says leaving the oil in the ground would protect the environment in the Amazon, which would benefit all countries.

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