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Chile reaches deal on activist

Jailed Indian-rights campaigner who had been on hunger strike will go to work camp.

January 30, 2008|Claudia Lagos and Patrick J. McDonnell | Special to The Times

SANTIAGO, CHILE — The Chilean government defended its decision Tuesday to back a church-brokered agreement that ended a months-long hunger strike by a jailed Indian-rights activist.

A top official in the office of President Michelle Bachelet said Patricia Troncoso was not granted a pardon and would serve out her 10-year sentence -- albeit in a work camp and not in a prison, and with weekend leaves.

"She obtained nothing more than the law permitted," Jose Antonio Viera-Gallo, general secretary to the presidency, told a radio station here.

Troncoso has served about half her sentence under anti-terrorism laws for setting fire to a forestry plot -- a charge she denied. The arson was one of many such attacks by Mapuche Indian militants against corporate targets in a low-level conflict that has raised tensions in southern Chile, the Mapuche ancestral homeland.

The hunger strike has focused attention on the plight of the Mapuche minority. Activists say that despite Chile's economic growth, the Indians have been left largely landless, impoverished and victims of police repression.

The government rejected Troncoso's original demands, including the release of Mapuche "political prisoners" and the "demilitarization" of Mapuche zones.

Under the deal, Troncoso, who is not a Mapuche, will serve out the remaining five years of her sentence in a police work camp and will be allowed to go home on weekends. Two imprisoned Mapuche militants received similar benefits as part of the pact worked out with the help of a Roman Catholic bishop.

In addition, Bachelet named a new commissioner charged with finding ways to improve life for Chile's Indian minority. Census figures show that less than 5% of the nation's residents describe themselves as indigenous.

The deal immediately came under attack from the conservative opposition to Bachelet, who heads the governing center-left coalition.

"You can't pretend the law applies in some parts of the country and not in other parts," Sen. Jovino Novoa said here in the capital, calling the pact a reward for violence.

Troncoso, 38, ended her fast Monday, 111 days after she began taking only liquids. She is being held at a hospital in the city of Chillan, 240 miles south of Santiago.

Last week, police doctors fearing for her life began providing her with intravenous nutrients. Friends and her father described Troncoso as weak but lucid.

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

Special correspondent Lagos reported from Santiago and Times staff writer McDonnell from Buenos Aires.

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