May 30, 2006

Murder rate of Brazil Indians rises sharply: Church

By Raymond Colitt

BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - The number of Indians killed
in Brazil has risen sharply in the past three years due mostly
to intensifying land conflicts, the Roman Catholic Church said
on Tuesday.

A report by the Indigenous Missionary Council, or Cimi,
said a growing Indian population, an expanding agricultural
frontier and an insufficient demarcation of Indian lands were
to blame for more land-related conflicts.

"We talk about violence against Indians as a thing of the
past but this type of atrocity continues today under our own
eyes," Bishop Odilo Pedro Scherer told journalists.

Between 2003 and 2005, 122 Indians were killed, compared
with 42 during the previous three years, the church watchdog
said in its report.

In addition, 73 Indians committed suicide and an additional
799 died of malnutrition or inadequate health care between 2003
and 2005, the report said. Brazil has an Indian population of
about 450,000.

"These numbers are shocking," said Tim Cahill, a Brazil
researcher for Amnesty International. "The banner of (President
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's) government was the fight against
hunger but there are Indian children dying of hunger -- it's

Most of the killings were blamed on gunmen hired by
ranchers and Indians fighting among themselves, the report

The majority of the deaths occurred in the southwestern
state of Mato Grosso do Sul. There, opposing tribes or families
often inhabit the same reserves and displaced Indians camp
along motorways or in shantytowns, said Saulo Feitosa, Cimi's
vice president.

"Their confinement is leading them to be killed or kill
each other," Feitosa said. "This government has reduced the
demarcation of lands and that is breeding more violence."

Indian reservations account for approximately 12 percent of
Brazil's territory but many of them are in thinly populated
remote areas of the Amazon rain forest.

The report's authors say state and federal governments were
paternalistic toward Indians.

"They hand out food baskets but deny them their ancestral
lands," said Lucia Helena Rangel, professor of anthropology at
the Pontifical Catholic University in Sao Paulo.

The government's National Indians Foundation said the Lula
administration had maintained the rate of demarcation of
previous governments. The "complicated" land rights situation
in Mato Grosso do Sul distorted the report's figures and was
not indicative of the Indians' situation nationwide, a
spokeswoman said.