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Saturday, October 2, 1999 Published at 17:20 GMT 18:20 UK

World: Americas

Rainforest power lines attacked

Indians in Venezuela's Amazon rainforests say they have begun knocking down high voltage electricity towers to stop a high-voltage power line under construction in a national park.

Members of the Pemon tribe in the region known as the Lost World have already brought down four towers and their leaders say they will continue their campaign until their land rights are recognised.

The line, being built by the Venezuelan Government, passes through the Canaima National Park, home to the world's tallest waterfall, Angel Falls, and mysterious flat-topped mountains.

According to the government, the line is intended to supply electricity to indigenous communities, gold-mining companies and towns in northeast Brazil, in line with agreements signed by a previous administration.

But the tribes living inside Venezuela say they were never fully consulted about the project, which brings the power line slicing through their back yards, and now they have decided to take action.

Tourism threat

According to a leader of the Pemon Indians, Jerrick Andre, some 500 protesters have brought down four newly-built pylons and will destroy more if work resumes before they have had a chance to negotiate with the government.

Some 200 national guardsmen have been sent to the region to protect the remaining pylons.

Mr Andre said the Indians are not opposed to progress - they just want their rights recognised. He also said the local communities are deeply worried about the surge in mining and tourism that the power lines would bring.

Some 30% of the electricity is intended for a mining town known as Kilometre 88 inside Venezuela, and there are already plans to expand mining operations once the cables arrive.

There is no independent confirmation of the sabotage, and the government insists it has often met with the tribes. It also insists the project is environmentally sound.

But the indigenous groups now say they want to talk directly to the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, to see if he will stand by his rhetoric about protecting the country's native people.

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