quito, apr 14 (ips) -- more than 500 indians from ecuador's amazon region who set out last saturday on a long march to the capital to demand land rights have begun their arduous 145 kilometre trek over the andean mountain range.

the marchers, members of the quichua, shiwiar and achuar communities from the tropical amazon region, are braving cold, rain, and sub-zero temperatures in the high andes to present their demands to the government in quito.

the indians are demanding official recognition of their rights to a two-million hectare territory in south eastern ecuador, which has been their home for generations, and a constitutional declaration acknowledging ecuador as a ''multinational'' country.

the group, wearing traditional colourful attire and armed with spears and arrows, includes native chiefs, witchdoctors, elders, women and children, accompanied by several doctors and two ambulances.

the marchers are due to be welcomed with traditional ceremonies tuesday night by their ''mountain brothers'' from the salasaca indigenous community, who live 136 kilometres south of quito.

some 300 salasacas are expected to join the amazon indians on their march to the capital.

according to local radio reports, the marchers have not encountered any problems on their journey and are expected to reach the capital between april 23 and 26.

according to a government spokesman, president rodrigo borja said he would be ''pleased'' to receive the indians when they arrive in quito.

in august 1990, the amazonian communities, grouped under the organisation of indigenous peoples of pastaza (opip), presented a proposal to president borja calling for legal recognition of their rights to their traditional homelands.

however, borja rejected the proposal as an attempt to dismember ''our national territory and form a parallel state''.

but leonardo viteri, opip's spokesman in quito, denied that the indigenous people's proposal was an attempt to create a separate state and stressed that the idea was to ''protect the forest from the irrational exploitation of oil resources and guarantee the development of our culture, language and laws.''

since june 1990, ecuador's three million indians, represented by the national indigenous confederation, have mounted the strongest challenge to the government's political, economic and social policies. that year, the indigenous confederation organised a massive ''uprising'' which paralysed agricultural production and brought road transport to a halt.

although the government subsequently agreed to hold talks with indigenous representatives, native leaders say the neogtiations have failed because the government has not resolved their demands for land rights and other issues.

native organisations are encouraging voters to abstain at the may 17 presidential elections and have announced the creation of an indigenous parliament ''to protest against a democracy which does not represent us.'' (ends/ips/trd/dc/cs/cg/92)

Copyright Inter Press Service 1992, all rights reserved. Permission to re- print within 7 days of original date only with permission from 'newsdesk'.

(Posted in Native-l on April 20, 1992 by SAIIC,