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Peru Indigenous Groups Settle US Court Claims with Occidental

Indigenous villagers in Peru have reached a negotiated settlement with Occidental Petroleum, which they had sued for allegedly polluting their lands over three decades, the two sides said on Thursday.

The oil producer agreed to fund development programs for the five Achuar communities in Peru's Amazon, which first filed a lawsuit in 2007, said Marco Simons, who represented them in court for the not-for-profit group EarthRights International.

A joint statement between the two parties was read by Simons at a news briefing in Lima. Occidental had no further comment other than what was in the statement.

A confidentiality clause prohibits the parties from revealing the size of the negotiated settlement, but both sides said they were pleased. Occidental has denied charges its operations in Peru polluted the environment.

"We've reached our objective of teaching the company a lesson,” said Achuar villager Adolfina Garcia at a news conference in Lima, the Peruvian capital.

The communities had alleged Occidental spilled oil and dumped toxic waste while operating Peru's biggest oil block, triggering widespread health problems.

Garcia said she believes her 11-year-old son died because he drank water from a river polluted by Occidental.

The plaintiffs filed their lawsuit in a federal court in Los Angeles, California, where Occidental used to be based, arguing Peruvian courts would shield Occidental.

Occidental lost its bid to have the lawsuit dismissed from U.S. courts in 2010.

The settlement agreement was reached in September of 2013 but the terms barred an announcement until now, Simons said.

Occidental operated Peru's oil block 1-AB from 1971 to 2000 before selling its operations to Argentine firm Pluspetrol.

Pluspetrol's contract is set to end in August of this year, and it has also been struggling to end several disputes with indigenous communities over pollution.

Indigenous communities are considering taking Pluspetrol to court if they cannot reach an agreement on environmental problems, said Achuar leader Arly Sandi from the town of Sauki.