Facebook Twitter



Armed Mohawk Indians embroiled in a land dispute with authorities agreed Saturday to lift a bridge blockade near Montreal after a provincial official promised to reduce the police contingent in this town.

The agreement was announced after Quebec Native Affairs Minister John Ciaccia met for more than six hours with Indian representatives in an effort to end the dispute that has left one police officer dead.The meeting came as Indians manned barricades at a reservation near Oka and blockaded the Mercier Bridge linking Montreal with its populous suburbs on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River.

Ciaccia said the bridge blockade could be lifted as early as Sunday, but he refused to elaborate on the terms of the agreement.

But Mohawk representative Ellen Gabriel said the Indians had agreed to reopen the bridge in return for a "significant reduction" of the police presence in Oka.

Highways leading to the bridge were blockaded Wednesday by Mohawks of the Kahnawake reserve following an armed clash between provincial police and Mohawks manning barricades on the reservation near Oka.

Since the clash, Mohawks and police have been locked in a tense standoff in Oka. The Indians have refused to take down their barricades.

Ciaccia said the talks Saturday resulted in the "beginnings of proposals" to end the Oka confrontation.

"You should all be very happy that we are announcing a solution for one very serious problem and the beginnings of a solution for the entire problem," he told reporters.

Ciaccia refused to elaborate on the proposals, saying he must first consult with the provincial government. He said he would return to Oka on Sunday to continue the talks.

Gabriel also refused to discuss details of the negotiations but said she is optimistic a solution can be found to the Oka dispute.

The confrontation has left one police officer dead after Wednesday's shootout with Mohawks manning barricades in Oka, 20 miles west of Montreal. It is unclear if the officer was shot by Mohawks or fellow police.

The Mohawks from the Kanehsatake Indian community set up barricades at Oka to stop the municipality from expanding a golf course onto what the Indians claim is ancestral territory.

Mohawk activists from the Kahnawake reserve had threatened to destroy the Mercier Bridge if police moved to dismantle their blockade.

One banner strung across a trailer near the bridge said, "Stop Canadian apartheid and Amerindian genocide."

The blockade of the bridge has sparked widespread anger among local white residents. The highway to the bridge passes through the Indian reservation.