Amazon tribesmen have killed at least 30 people in an apparent revenge attack against a rival group in the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle, an indigenous leader says.
Citing information from people who participated in the attack, Ecuador President Cahuetipe Yeti, of the Huaorani Nationality, said children were among the dead. Both groups in the rivalry are part of the Huaorani nation.
Friday's new death toll is higher than the 18 fatalities cited a day earlier by the group's vice president, Gilberto Nenquimo.
According to Huaorani leaders, several members of the clan attacked a settlement of the Taromenane clan on March 29 in retaliation for the March 5 spearing deaths of a Huaorani leader and his wife.
According to reports from both sides, the conflict is the result of a disagreement about how much contact the tribe will have with the ousdide world. Traditionally, the Huaorani have had limited contact with the modern world with some isolated villages having none at all.
Yeti was speaking by telephone from the secluded village of Yarentaro, in northeastern Ecuador, where the incident occurred. He said he travelled there on Thursday with governor Rosario Cortez.
Cortez said he was searching for more details to clarify the incident, adding that the Huaorani had pledged to co-operate with his investigation.
But earlier on Friday, Justice Minister Carmen Simone said the government had conducted several flybys of the area and did not find any evidence of the raid. “We have no solid evidence about the killings,” she said. “We have received all our information second-hand.”
"What we have seen is the existence of malocas (large huts) in good condition. There were no malocas in bad condition or (that had been) burned," Simone told reporters.
Traditionally, the government of Ecuador has maintained a policy of allowing indigenous tribes to resolve conflicts among themselves, even if these involve injuries and deaths.
An overland expedition was deployed to locate the site of the alleged massacre, she added.
Native guides report, however, that they have seen bodies scattered over a 100-meter area in the jungle. The guides refused to identify themselves or provide more information for fear, they say, of being attacked.
Simone also confirmed that the Huaorani were holding two Taromenane girls hostage.
Nenquimo said on Thursday that Huaorani leaders had negotiated with the attackers so that the two girls — aged between eight and nine years old — would be returned to their clan to avoid further reprisals.
This type of attack is common among tribes in the vicinity of Yasuni National Park. A 2003 raid allegedly conducted by the Huaorani against a Taromenane settlement left 23 women and children dead.
Photo caption: Huaorani tribesmen in 2003 photo.