Chile president visits flashpoint region claimed by Indigenous groups

Chile President Gabriel Boric on Thursday began his first visit to the southern Araucania region that has been wracked by violence linked to radical Indigenous groups.

Leftist Boric deployed soldiers to the region and reimposed emergency measures earlier this year following a spate of arson attacks.

On Twitter, the president said his visit was to "strengthen the interministerial work based on our government's priorities in the region, with the focus on people and security."

His visit to the region, in central Chile several hundred miles (kilometers) south of Santiago, was only confirmed late on Wednesday for security reasons.

It comes following another series of arson attacks, including against a school and a church, as well as several roadblocks.

The densely forested region is the site of territorial claims by the Mapuche, Chile's largest Indigenous group.

The Arauco Malleco Coordination (CAM), one of the main Mapuche groups in the region, released a statement on Wednesday opposing Boric's visit.

It said his trip "obeys the interests of the oligarchy, the power of economic groups that directly oppose the Mapuche cause."

Boric plans to meet with local leaders and victims of the conflict.

In the 16th century, the Mapuche resisted Spanish expansion in their territories but they were finally subdued in 1870 by the Chilean army, which subsequently began installing colonies in the region.

The restitution of these ancestral lands is at the heart of the Mapuche struggle.

Radical groups carry out regular arson attacks on logging companies in the region, and also prevent outsiders from entering the area without prior authorization.

Two days after Boric assumed office in March, former interior minister Izkia Siches was forced to turn back from a proposed visit to the region after shots were fired in the air to intimidate her party.

Boric's predecessor Sebastian Pinera first deployed the military to Araucania in October 2021 and although the new president ended that move, he was then forced to backtrack in May.