At least 12 people, believed to be members of the Mapuche indigenous community, have been arrested in Villa Mascardi, Río Negro Province, after a large security operation was deployed by the authorities to evict occupiers who had seized territory.
The operation came just days after local residents had protested about the occupation of territory and recent arson attacks, demanding action from the authorities.
Earlier this month, militants linked to the Lafken Winkul Mapu community burned down a Border Guard hut at the Los Radales lot in the southern village, also subjecting it to gunfire.
The security operation began at 6am local time and featured a “unified command” of security forces, officials said. Tactical teams, riot police and specialised units all took part in the operation, which was focused on the village of Villa Mascardi.
Federal Judge Silvina Domínguez was also on the scene to observe the operation, which also involved a helicopter belonging to the Federal Police.
At least 12 people in total were arrested. According to reports, seven were women and five were minors.
As news of the operation broke, María Nahuel, a representative of Loft Winkul Mapu community, gave an interview on local radio. She accused the state of “stealing” land from the indigenous community and called on fellow Mapuches to demonstrate against the operation.
“No matter how much they remove us, we will always return to our territory," she said.
There have been conflicts between local residents and these Mapuche groups for at least a decade and they have become recurrent in the vicinity of Villa Mascardi.
Argentina’s National Security Ministry recently created a joint force (consisting of the Río Negro provincial police, the Federal Police, the airport police and the Coast and Border Guards) to oversee the area, but the so-called "Mapuche resistance" continues to prevail.
Security Minister Aníbal Fernández trailed the operation in an interview with the TN news channel.
"We are making some moves but we have to wait, we are going to work on the basis of judicial decisions and what we understand is that we have to regularise the situation because it is not the right one".
Diego Frutos, a local community leader, said residents had been “waiting for five years” for the eviction to take place.