SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) - An elderly couple whose family has long been targeted by Mapuche Indians in land disputes was killed in an arson attack early Friday while trying to defend their home, police said.
President Sebastian Pinera flew to the area and was meeting with local authorities in Chile's remote southern Araucania region, where his appointed governor, Andres Molina, called the attackers "savages."
Werner Luchsinger, 75, fired a weapon in self-defense, and struck a man from the nearby Mapuche community of Juan Quintrupil before his home burned to the ground, police chief Ivan Bezmalinovic said.
Luchsinger's wife Vivian McKay called relatives for help during the attack, but when they arrived just 15 minutes later the house was already in flames and she didn't answer her phone, according to the victim's cousin, Jorge Luchsinger.
Interior Minister Andres Chadwick said Chile's tough anti-terrorism law will be applied to those responsible.
The attack began Thursday night as one of many political protests around Chile commemorating the death five years ago of Mapuche activist Matias Catrileo, who was shot in the back by an officer who served a minor sentence and then rejoined the police. The Indians scattered pamphlets related to the anniversary while on the Luchsinger property, Chadwick said.
The victims' Lumahue ranch is just 16 miles (25 kilometers) from the spot where Catrileo was killed on Jan. 3, 2008.
Celestino Cordova Transito, 26, was detained near the scene early Friday. Police have him under arrest in a hospital in Temuco, where he was being treated for a gunshot wound in the neck, the chief said.
"I want to thank Don Werner, because probably thanks to him we're closer to finding these savages who have done such damage to Araucania," announced Gov. Andres Molina ahead of Pinera's arrival. "We are going to apply the full force of the anti-terrorist law."
Pinera plans to meet personally with the Luchsinger family and other landowners as well as local authorities, Chadwick said.
The Luchsinger family arrived in Mapuche territory from Switzerland in the late 1800s and benefited from the government's colonization policies for decades thereafter, becoming one of the largest landowners in Chile's Patagonia region. Their forestry and ranching companies now occupy vast stretches of southern Chile, and impoverished Mapuches live on the margins of their properties.
Jorge Luchsinger said masked Indians have attacked his and other relatives' properties as well, and complained that the considerable police presence in the area has failed to control the violence. "It's obvious that the authorities are completely overwhelmed," he told radio Cooperativa.
The Mapuches, for their part, have lodged many complaints of abuse of power by police in the area. The United Nation's Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, has denounced police violence, as has the Chile's official Human Rights Institute, and judges have ordered police to stop using tear gas against women and children while raiding Mapuche communities in search of suspects.
Decades of conflict between the Mapuches and the Luchsingers have made the family a symbol of how land disputes have harmed relations between both sides in the region, according to Pedro Cayuqueo, a Mapuche journalist in Temuco. But Cayuqueo told The Associated Press on Friday that there's no truth to the claim often made by authorities that armed Indian groups are launching coordinated attacks. "These are tiny minorities who take justice into their own hands," he insisted.