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Business People Complain Mohawk Standoff Threatens Bankruptcy

August 1, 1990

OKA, Quebec (AP) _ Local business people complained to Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa on Wednesday that the long standoff between Mohawks and police threatens them with bankruptcy.

The Chateauguay Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Mulroney and Bourassa telling them to get personally involved in a speedy solution to the 3-week-old impasse or face serious problems.

Neither leader has taken a public role in dealing with the confrontation that arose from a land dispute, leaving matters in the hands of aides.

″Does it take monster demonstrations, effigy burnings or social unrest to get you to intervene?″ the letter asked. ″If it takes threats to get you to do your job, consider this.″

The letter said businesses and industries in this suburb are on the verge of bankruptcy because of Mohawk barricades blocking highways and the Mercier Bridge connecting the region to Montreal.

In Oka, 18 miles northwest of Montreal, a provincial policemen was killed three weeks ago in a police raid on a Mohawk roadblock following a municipal request for police to enforce a court order. Blame has not been established in the death. Mohawks say Oka wants to expand a golf course onto ancestral land.

Oka village council scuttled a federal plan to ease tensions when it decided Tuesday night not to sell the federl government part of the disputed property. The land would have become part of a new Mohawk reserve.

″We won’t sign until the blockades come down,″ Mayor Jean Ouellette said after the conclusion of a stormy town meeting called to discuss the deal.

The federal government offered to pay for land that was slated for the golf course expansion and to pay compensation to the town for economic loss. It earlier bought from a Frenchman land marked for residential development.

Ouellette initially recommended that the deal be accepted. Several residents at the meeting objected, however, when told that removal of the barricades would not be part of the deal.

″If we’re ready to make a concession by selling the land, why don’t (the Mohawks) put down the barricades and the guns?″ said businessman Bernard Boivin, 51, who led the attack on the proposal.

Another local man, Guy Dube, added: ″The people from Oka are standing together and saying that to let the natives have the land without any concession on their part is something nobody will agree to.″

In Montreal, a human rights expert said violations have been committed on both sides during the standoff.

Jean-Claude Fouque, general secretary of the International Federation of Human Rights, said he won’t lay blame in his preliminary report for the United Nations. A final report is expected in a month or two.

The federation, based in Paris, is an independent coalition of human rights groups which investigates allegations of human rights abuses.

Fouque said Tuesday that the federation is mobilizing a task force of 24 international observers to help end the dispute.

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