efe-epaSantiago

A group of hooded attackers in the early hours Saturday set on fire 18 trucks loaded with food products in the Araucania region of southern Chile, police reported.

According to the militarized Carabinero police, the 15 individuals who pulled off the incendiary attack some 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the city of Temuco were armed and threatened security guards and drivers before setting the parked vehicles on fire.

Of the 18 trucks employed by the Lucchetti and CCU companies, at least 13 were completely destroyed, the Carabineros said.

According to local Biobio radio, the attack occurred at 2:00 am in the Pichiquepe district of Padre Las Casas municipality.

The police report said it was one of the guards from the private trucking company who got away and told the Carabineros about the arson attack, thought to have been perpetrated by the Mapuche Indian collective Welchan Auka Mapu.

A canvas was found at the scene of the attack referring to the Mapuche cause, regional superintendent Nora Barrientos said, adding that the same group claimed responsibility for the recent burning of chapels in the area, as well as some 30 acts of violence in 2016.

"We believe that some of its members are under arrest, which could be one reason for what happened today," the authority said.

Weichan Auka Mapu is a resistance movement that since 2013 has sought to protect Mapuche rights and counter the occupation of their ancestral lands, which are now taken over by farming and forestry companies.

In Araucania, one of Chile's poorest regions, Indians occupy some 600,000 hectares (2,300 sq. miles), or 5 percent of the land inherited from their forebears and a sixth of the area owned by forestry companies.

The conflict, which has gone on for decades, has led to the violent death of several Mapuches, with women and children the victims of excessive police violence, while farm hands and Carabineros have also been killed.

All that plus a series of incendiary attacks on properties, woodlands and vehicles have been carried out, with dozens of Indians tried and sentenced for those transgressions, at times with "insufficient" evidence, human rights organizations say.

Mapuches have complained to the government for years about the militarized state of their communities and the permanent discrimination that affects them.