the amerindians are being held by force on a three-hectare plot at the 634-hectare yuracruz estate in the andean province of imbabura, 130 km north of quito, by 32 settlers who created an agro-industrial company in the area in 1986.
the disputed estate was expropriated 12 years ago by the ecuadorean institute for agrarian reform and settlement (ierac) and its lands put up for sale to amerindians and the group of settlers.
since wednesday, some 200 amerindians from the area, including 70 women and 30 children, have occupied a park in the centre of quito, demanding a 300,000 dollar loan from president rodrigo borja to purchase the lands allocated to them.
amerindian leaders told ips monday that the settlers, who include real estate agents, transporters and farmers, have been harassing the amerindians since 1986 to get them to abandon the land.
the ierac decided in 1991 to turn over the entire estate to the amerindians, but this has not materialized due to ''juggling with the laws and the buying of consciences,'' said the leader of the protesters, aurelio tuqueres.
although the government has not made any public statement on the issue, sources within the presidency said that they were studying the case and hoped to resolve it very soon.
however, the conflict has taken a dramatic swing since the settlers have prevented the amerindians in the village within the estate from leaving and receiving visits, blocking all access roads to the village and threatening to kill the community's leaders.
''they attack us with dogs, shoot at us and drive their vehicles at us,'' said tuqueres, who said that the amerindians are ''prisoners'' on the estate and are ''dying of hunger.''
in recent years imbabura province has been racked by constant conflicts between amerindians, large landowners and settlers, in which dozens of people have died. most of the victims are amerindians killed by paramilitary groups, human rights groups say.
the amerindians protesting in the park in central quito have vowed not to leave the capital until their problem is resolved, since the lands ''belonged to our parents.'' they said they held the authorities responsible ''for whatever happens in the future.''
marco almeida of the ruling democratic left party and governor of imbabura from 1988 to 1991, charged that ienac director luis luna has not solved the problem because he was the attorney of the settlers' agro-industrial company between 1984 and 1988.
almeida said that when the national police visited the estate ''some time ago'' to prevent clashes, they were turned back with gunfire by the settlers.
the amerindians occupying the park are being guarded by policemen and, according to their leaders, they are not being allowed to leave the area to march to the government building and make their demands known. ''we too are prisoners,'' they said.
the group has not received support from humanitarian bodies and trade unions, nor from the national confederations of amerindians of ecuador (conaie), which backed a 12-day march by amerindians from the ecuadorean amazon to the capital three months ago.
the marchers attained their objective since the government agreed to grant legal recognition of the indigenous people's ownership rights to a million hectares of land in the amazon region after the protesters had remained for three weeks in the park amid wide media coverage and public interest.
on the other hand, the presence of the imbabura protesters has passed unnoticed by quito's residents, more concerned about the government of sixto duran-ballen, who will be sworn in on aug. 10, than about the lives of 800 amerindians held ''prisoner'' on their ancestral lands. (end/ips/trd/so/sg-cs/kb/92)