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Last Updated: Monday, 14 May 2007, 19:12 GMT 20:12 UK
Rancher denies US nun's killing
Dorothy Stang
Dorothy Stang spent decades defending peasant farmers
A Brazilian rancher has pleaded not guilty to the killing of US-born nun and environmental activist Dorothy Stang at a trial in the city of Belem.

Vitalmiro Bastos Moura, 36, is accused of paying gunmen to shoot the 73-year-old missionary dead in 2005.

"I had no participation whatsoever," he told Judge Raymond Moises Alves Flexa at the trial.

Sister Dorothy campaigned for poor farmers' rights and to preserve the rainforest from loggers and developers.

Her murder followed a dispute with ranchers over land they wanted to clear for pasture and she wanted to protect.

Land conflict

Prosecutors said Mr Moura had ordered Sister Dorothy's killing because she had sent letters to the local authorities accusing him of setting illegal fires to clear land, which led to him receiving a substantial fine.

In court, he told prosecutors he had only learned of the nun's death when the gunmen fled onto his property.

The Ohio-born nun had lived in the remote town of Anapu for more than 20 years, helping peasant farmers defend their land.

She was found dead on a muddy track in February 2005, shot six times at close range.

Map showing location of Anapu in Brazil

Three men - two gunmen and an intermediary - have already been convicted for the killing, but this is the first trial of someone alleged to have ordered it.

Another rancher, Regivaldo Pereira Galvao, has also been charged with ordering the killing, but has yet to face trial.

Prosecutors say Mr Moura and Mr Galvao paid the gunmen 50,000 reals ($24,800, 12,500) to shoot Sister Dorothy to end the land dispute.

Her murder provoked outrage in Brazil and overseas, highlighting the often violent conflicts over land in the Amazon.

I feel Brazil will do Dorothy justice
David Stang, Dorothy's brother
Shortly after her death, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva introduced a raft of measures aimed at preserving parts of the rainforest from development.

Dorothy Stang's brother David is due to attend the trial.

"I feel Brazil will do Dorothy justice," he told the Associated Press news agency. "This is not about revenge. This is about justice for the poor."

In the last 30 years, more than 1,000 people have been killed in land disputes in Brazil, the BBC's Brazil correspondent Gary Duffy says - more than 770 of those in the state of Para.

Court frees Stang murder suspect
29 Jun 06 |  Americas
Third man jailed for US nun death
27 Apr 06 |  Americas
Amazon nun's killers are jailed
11 Dec 05 |  Americas
Brazil nun 'shot in self-defence'
09 Dec 05 |  Americas
'No impunity' for Amazon killers
22 Feb 05 |  Americas
Murder prompts Brazil Amazon curb
18 Feb 05 |  Americas
Brazil farmers bury activist nun
16 Feb 05 |  Americas

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