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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 March 2007, 07:09 GMT 08:09 UK
Peru 'must protect Amazon tribes'
By Dan Collyns
BBC News, Lima

Peruvian family in Peru's Amazon jungle
Illegal logging is harming isolated Amazonian tribespeople
Peru must act swiftly to protect isolated Amazonian tribes from illegal loggers, Latin America's top human rights body has ruled.

Indigenous leaders say the tribes have already suffered untold deaths from diseases contracted from outsiders.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights judged the risk to these isolated communities so great that it bypassed all the usual procedures.

Peru has been given two weeks to take steps to protect the isolated tribes.

If it fails to do so it could ultimately be subject to economic sanctions.

Profitable business

The pan-American human rights body says that although Peru has created reserves for the indigenous communities who live in voluntary isolation, it does nothing to protect them from gangs of illegal loggers who are chopping down the mahogany-rich forests in which they live.

Indigenous leaders say several loggers have been killed in confrontations with the tribes in the last few years.

But they fear many more of the jungle dwellers have died through enslavement, violence or from contracting illnesses from which they have no immunity.

The steady advance of logging has forced the isolated groups, among them the Mashco-Piro and Yora tribes, deeper into Peru's jungle frontier with Brazil and Bolivia.

The hugely profitable but illicit business sees most of the tropical hardwoods exported to the United States.

This has forced the Peruvian state to take notice.

The Democrat-controlled US Congress has said it cannot ratify a free trade agreement with Peru until makes certain changes, among them adopting and enforcing laws on logging mahogany.

Earlier this week, the Peruvian President Alan Garcia provoked criticism from environmentalists when he said the quantity of mahogany which left the country, legally or not, was insignificant.

To many human rights workers the president's statement confirmed their suspicion that there is little political will to tackle the illegal trade and the isolated people's reserves might not be worth the paper they are written on.

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