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MRG welcomes suspension of Bolivian Amazon road but concerned by reports of violence against indigenous protesters

27 September 2011

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) welcomes the temporary suspension by the Bolivian President Evo Morales of a road project through an Amazon reserve.

‘At the same time, we are concerned about reports of violence and urge the government to conduct an immediate and impartial enquiry into the actions taken by the police to halt the march by indigenous protesters,' says Carl Söderbergh, MRG's Director of Policy and Communications.

Hundreds of indigenous protesters and environmental activists set off in August on a 500km march from the Amazon town of Trinidad to Bolivia's capital La Paz, to protest against government plans to build a road through the Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park. The reserve is home to Chiman, Yurucare and Moxos indigenous communities who say the road would encourage illegal settlement and deforestation in their Amazon homeland.

According to reports police fired tear gas into crowds of protesters as they tried to break through police lines preventing them from advancing along the road on Sunday. Hundreds of activists were reportedly rounded up on to specially prepared buses.

In response the Bolivian President has ordered all development plans to stop and called for a "national debate", which is understood will be a referendum, to decide on the future of the road.

‘Much depends on how the proposed referendum is conducted. In general, referenda are not necessarily the best mechanism for deciding the future of sensitive areas such as this. There is a risk that majority interests simply overrule affected indigenous communities, despite the fact that they have particular rights to determine the future use of their lands, according to international law,' says Söderbergh.