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Mohawks Say Army Too Close, Cancel Peace Talks in Quebec

August 23, 1990

OKA, Quebec (AP) _ Mohawk negotiators suspended talks with the Quebec government Thursday after armored personnel carriers moved into position near a barricade the Mohawks erected six weeks ago in their land dispute.

″It’s clear to me this is an intimidation tactic,″ said Mohawk negotiator Joe Deom, surrounded by masked, gun-toting members of the Warriors Society milling about the army vehicles. ″They’re making it more and more difficult to stay at the table.″

Maj. Richard Larouche, an army spokesman, said the soldiers advanced their position because armed Warriors were spotted coming in and out of a milewide area separating army and Mohawk lines. The army said it would stay in its new position, about 35 feet from the Mohawk barricade.

Despite that, native spokesmen - not identified - said the Mohawks were ready to return to the bargaining table.

Larouche said the military closed the gap after sending armored personnel carriers to accompany a busload of Mohawk negotiators.

Tempers in the region, 18 miles west of Montreal, were high.

Residents were frustrated and furious over commuting hardships and loss of business revenue caused by the Mohawk blockade of Mercier Bridge, linking several communities on the south side of the St. Lawrence River with Montreal.

Crowds have tried to stop medical supplies and food from reaching the Mohawk community and to keep Indians from leaving.

The goverment guarantees access to the reserve while negotiations continue, under an agreement reached Aug. 12. Federal troops are at Oka in response to a request by Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa.

As local police watched Wednesday, Mohawks and whites brawled after a crowd halted three cars with Mohawk passengers at Ste-Catherine. Soldiers intervened and arrested five Indians.

About 50 whites carrying crowbars and baseball bats patrolled another road from the reserve. Tires were slashed on two Mohawk vehicles and a van was overturned before the Indians fled.

A Montreal demonstrator said, ″The police have to let them through with their food. We don’t.″

The dispute arose from Oka’s plans to expand a golf course onto land said to be ancestral. One officer was killed in a gun battle on July 11 when Quebec police tried to remove a Mohawk barrier. Blame in the death has not been fixed.

The Mohawks put some demands in writing for the first time Wednesday. It was expected the Mohawks will propose giving native reserves in Ontario and Quebec sovereignty over economic development.

On Thursday, the Mohawks boarded a rented bus bound for negotiations at Oka when they were met by armored personnel carriers.

″The one in front lowered its machine gun at the bus and they said they were here to escort us to the talks,″ said Mohawk spokesman Peter Diome.

Diome quoted the soldiers as explaining that death threats had been made against Indian negotiators. But the Mohawks called off Thursday’s talks, branding the army movement an ″act of aggression. ″

On Wednesday, angry whites stopped an ambulance from the Kahnawake reserve carrying a Mohawk woman who had just given birth. She was being rushed to a Montreal hospital because of birth complications.

″Two of the protesters insisted on looking into the back of the ambulance to verify there were no weapons and it was a real emergency,″ said Mireille Sigmen, head of communications for the ambulance service. She said the service is filing a complaint with provincial police.

Emergency vehicles are supposed to have unrestricted passage over Mercier Bridge.

Quebec’s public security minister said Wednesday the dispute has cost the government at least $85 million (U.S.) in police costs and compensation.