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Deadly attack stokes Chile Mapuche conflict

Photographer Rodrigo Abd works for the Associated Press based out of Lima, Peru. He recently won a 2013 Pulitzer Prize as part of AP's team coverage of the conflict in Syria. In February, he documented Chile's Mapuche Indian community as they battle over land rights issues with the government.

Rodrigo Abd / AP

Gerardo Purran Heiquillan, 20, poses for a portrait as he rests from dancing at a "Guillatun," a spiritual ceremony to ask for the well-being of the clan and strengthen ties in the Collico community in Ercilla, Chile, on Feb. 17. In the past five years, reported acts of violence from the Mapuche land struggle have escalated 10 times over, prompting a police response that the indigenous group say has been heavy handed and abusive.

Rodrigo Abd / AP

Mapuche Indian men rest after dancing during a "Guillatum," a spiritual ceremony to ask for the well-being of the clan and strengthen ties in the Temucuicui Autonomous community in Ercilla, Chile, on Feb. 10.

The hooded men approached the ranch by night, scattering pamphlets about the death of a Mapuche Indian activist shot in the back by a policeman.

The property belonged to an elderly couple who had lived most of their lives on this wild land surrounded by soaring mountains and rich, primeval forests. For the trespassers, the couple were only the latest in a long line of enemies usurping their ancestral territory.

Rodrigo Abd / AP

Sandra Millacheo, 18, center, and her sister Elsa Millacheo, 22, are released by a judge after being arrested during confrontations with police and held for one day in Collipulli, Chile, on Feb. 13. The women were arrested along with 17 others after clashing with police outside a court where Fernando Millacheo, a member of the Mapuche indigenous community, was to appear for a hearing on robbery, arson and attempted murder charges.

Rodrigo Abd / AP

Mapuche Indian youths holding a flag are reflected in a door behind which a police officer stands guard during a hearing for Juan Ciriaco Millacheo, an Indian leader who was detained in Neuquen, Argentina for his alleged involvement in a 2001 forest fire, in Collipulli, Chile, on Feb, 9.

When the men tried to break in, Werner Luchsinger, 75, shot one of the trespassers in the neck. His wife, Vivian Mackay, 69, desperately telephoned her son for help, as the attackers torched the house. The couple died in the flames.

That deadly arson was a breaking point in some of the most violent months in recent memory in southern Chile's Araucania region. Over the past five years, reported acts of violence from the Mapuche struggle have escalated 10 times over, prompting a police response that the indigenous group says has been heavy-handed and abusive.

Rodrigo Abd / AP

Part of a forest is burned after a forest fire started by Mapuche radical groups to protest the presence of agricultural firms on their ancestral land in Temuco, Chile, on Feb. 7.

Rodrigo Abd / AP

Mapuche Indians from the Temucuicui Autonoma community wait to welcome members of other Mapuche communities to attend a "Guillatun," a spiritual ceremony to ask for the well-being of the clan and strengthen ties in Ercilla, Chile, on Feb. 9.

Rodrigo Abd / AP

A Mapuche Indian performs during a "Guillatun," a spiritual ceremony to ask for the well-being of the clan and strengthen ties, in the Temucuicui Autonomous community in Ercilla, Chile, on Feb. 10.

Now, after decades trying to appease Mapuche demands, Chile's government finds itself at an impasse over how to ease tensions. In the last three years, it has returned 10,000 hectare (25,000 acres) to the Mapuche and encouraged timber companies and other landowners to allow people to till small plots.

Yet the violence has only grown as the Mapuche demand the return of some 400,000 hectares (1 million acres) — about the size of Rhode Island.

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Rodrigo Abd / AP

Mapuche Indians gather for a "Guillatun," a spiritual ceremony to ask for the well-being of the clan and strengthen ties in the Temucuicui Autonomous community in Ercilla, Chile, on Feb. 10. "We're not trying to kick anybody out," said Aucan Huilcaman, a Mapuche leader. "We're not asking for more roads or more seeds. We're asking for our own government because this is our land. It's not anti-Chilean, it's pro-Mapuche."

Rodrigo Abd / AP

Mapuche Indian women prepare lunch during a "Guillatun," a spiritual ceremony organized by Mapuche communities to ask for the well-being of the clan and strengthen ties, in the Temucuicui Autonoma community, in Ercilla, Chile, on Feb. 10.

Rodrigo Abd / AP

Martin Nicolas Coñumil, 9, helps his grandfather Carlos Coñumil, 84, who is an Indian Chief or "Lonko" in Mapuche, in the Collico community in Ercilla, Chile, on Feb. 15.

Rodrigo Abd / AP

Mapuche Indians gather for a "Guillatun," a spiritual ceremony to ask for the well-being of the clan and strengthen ties in the Temucuicui Autonomous community in Ercilla, Chile, Feb. 10.