LA PAZ – Four police officers were tortured and killed by residents of an indigenous community in the western Bolivian province of Potosi, authorities said Wednesday.
The officers’ deaths are “confirmed, but the causes aren’t known,” the provincial police chief, Col. Orlando Avila, told Efe by telephone from a town near the scene of the incident in Uncia.
The area of northern Potosi where the policemen died is occupied by five indigenous communities that are known as the Ayllus Guerreros, or Warrior Clans, because of their nearly 200-year-long history of involvement in sometimes bloody conflicts over land.
Avila said some 10,000 people have mobilized in the area around Uncia to prevent authorities from entering the town and that as many as 20,000 residents are expected to take part in a planned march to protest police actions.
The colonel said he is trying to arrange a meeting with the indigenous leaders as a first step toward launching an investigation of the lynching.
The slain officers belonged to the police auto-theft unit in neighboring Oruro province and according to some accounts, they were in Potosi to search for stolen vehicles.
But other versions say the cops were extorting smugglers, while some media outlets suggested the Indians in Uncia mistook the policemen for criminals.
The government’s priority for the moment is “to calm” the population in Uncia, Bolivia’s deputy minister for public safety, Gen. Miguel Vazquez, said in La Paz.
Clashes among the Warrior Clans of Potosi are blamed for roughly 10,000 deaths since 1830, though the most recent round of fighting was nine years ago, when 57 people died. EFE