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Chile: Couple dies defending home against Indians

Chile: Couple dies defending home against Indians

January 4th, 2013 in News

Firefighters work Friday to extinguish the flames of the home of a wealthy landowner in Temuco, Chile. Werner Luchsinger, 75, and wife Vivian McKay, whose family's vast landholdings have long been targeted by Mapuche Indians in southern Chile, were killed in the arson attack early Friday while trying to defend their home.

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) - An elderly couple whose family's vast landholdings have long been targeted by Mapuche Indians in southern Chile were killed in an arson attack early Friday while trying to defend their home. The president quickly flew to the scene and announced new security measures, including the application of Chile's tough anti-terrorism law and the creation of a special police anti-terror unit backed by Chile's military.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, which some Mapuche Indians repudiated Friday as senseless and abhorrent. But Chile's interior minister said pamphlets condemning police violence and demanding the return of Mapuche lands were left at the scene. The presidentially appointed governor of the remote southern region of Araucania, Andres Molina, called the attackers "savages."

"This attack affects the entire country and causes gigantic damage, for the pain and the delays that it means for thousands of families who want to live in peace," Pinera said. "This government is united in its effort to combat terrorism that affects the region. We will not hesitate to apply the full weight of the law."

"It should be completely clear," Pinera added, "that this fight is not against the Mapuche people. It's with a minority of violent terrorists who must be fought with everything the law allows."

Werner Luchsinger, 75, fired a weapon in self-defense, and struck a man from the nearby Mapuche community of Juan Quintrupil before his home burned to the ground, regional police chief Ivan Bezmalinovic said.

Luchsinger's wife Vivian McKay called relatives for help during the attack, but when they arrived just 15 minutes later the house was already in flames and she didn't answer her phone, according to the victim's cousin, Jorge Luchsinger.

The attack began Thursday night when many political protests around Chile commemorated the death five years ago of Mapuche activist Matias Catrileo, who was shot in the back by an officer who served a minor sentence and then rejoined the police. The Indians scattered pamphlets related to the anniversary while on the Luchsinger property, Interior Minister Andres Chadwick said.

The victims' Lumahue ranch is just 16 miles from the spot where Catrileo was killed on Jan. 3, 2008.

Celestino Cordova Transito, 26, was detained near the scene early Friday. Police have him under arrest in a hospital in Temuco, where he was being treated for a gunshot wound in the neck, the chief said.

Gov. Molina said that Werner Luchsinger's gunshot, by enabling police to capture the wounded suspect, may help solve not only the couple's death but previous arson attacks as well.

Pinera also met briefly with the Luchsinger family as well as other local landowners next to the burned-out home, but Chile's El Mercurio said the meeting was cut short when some fled due to a false rumor that Mapuche activists were targeting their properties even as the president spoke. Other landowners shouted out in anger, asking for tougher security measures, and then briefly blocked the main highway in protest. Pinera's security detail then ushered him away, the newspaper reported.