MACAS, Ecuador — Several hundred Shuar Indians wearing black war paint and toting wooden spears on Thursday reinforced a highway blockade that police failed to break up earlier in a bloody melee that left one Indian dead and at least 40 police injured.
Police pulled out of the southeastern jungle region on orders from leftist President Rafael Correa, who is in an intensifying dispute with indigenous groups that say proposed legislation would allow mining on their lands without their consent and lead to the privatization of water.
The Shuar maintained a traffic blockade of burning tires and wire fencing they had mounted on Monday, and vowed not to lift it until he comes to negotiate with them — personally. Correa says talks can't start until Indians abandon the blockades.
"With us its all dialogue, no force," Correa told Publica radio Thursday.
Ecuador's government and indigenous groups traded blame for Wednesday's clash in which police used tear gas to try to break up the roadblock.
The government says Indians responded with shotgun fire. Ecuador's Amazon Indian federation, CONFENAIE, said 500 police provoked the violence by attacking the Shuar and one indigenous leader accused Correa of "declaring a civil war."
Witnesses did not back claims by CONFENAIE that nine natives were wounded by police gunfire in the clash.
The government initially said many riot police were wounded by shotgun pellets but journalists were not allowed to photograph or interview injured officers as they arrive in the capital, Quito. None of their injuries looked life-threatening in photos released by police.
The Shuar generally subsist as hunter-gatherers on their ancestral lands and have mounted fierce resistance to oil exploration since it began in Ecuador's Amazon in the early 1970s. Wednesday's violence recalled a similar clash in June in Peru in which at least 33 people were killed when police broke up a roadblock by Indians protesting development decrees.
Correa has angered Ecuador's indigenous peoples, who account for about 35 percent of the country's 14.5 million people, by calling them "infantile minorities" for opposing the draft mining and water laws, which they fear will despoil their ancestral lands.
Correa denies he plans to privatize water with the law, which would put water resources under state control.
The Shuars' as-yet undeveloped lands are rich in deposits of gold, copper and other minerals.
Humberto Cholango, a leader of Ecuador's umbrella Indian confederation, CONAIE, declared a "permanent mobilization" in response to the violence. But only in southeastern jungles were road blockades evident.
CONAIE had launched a nationwide protest Monday against the proposed water and mining laws, but called it off after a sparse turnout.
The confirmed death was a 50-year-old Shuar teacher, Bosco Wisum, who ran a bilingual school in the nearby town of Sevilla. He was shot in the head with a shotgun pellet, according to an autopsy read by Sonia Ortega, governor of Morona Santiago province where the violence occurred.
Shuar leader Romulo Acachu showed The Associated Press the dark blood stain on the highway where Wisum was killed, calling the teacher a "hero" who has inspired the Shuar to maintain their resistance.
"This government is delinquent, murderous," he said.
Amazon Indian federation president Tito Puenchir appealed to the United Nations and Organization of American States to intervene. He promised international legal action over violations of the Indians' "collective and human rights."
Indigenous leader Marlon Santi offered Correa "a complete guarantee" of safety if he comes to the Amazon province of Pastaza for talks.
So far, Ecuador has not moved to arrest Indians, as Peru's government did after the June violence there. But Interior Minister Gustavo Jalkh said Ecuador's judicial branch would determine those responsible for the violence in a late Wednesday news conference.
Indian peoples battling development have been increasingly flexing their muscles up and down the Andes ridge after toppling governments in Ecuador and Bolivia beginning in the 1990s.