Page last updated at 09:15 GMT, Friday, 28 March 2008

TV crew denies passing fatal flu

Peruvian family in Peru's Amazon jungle - file photo
Peru's remote indigenous people are vulnerable to outside illnesses

A British TV production company has denied allegations that its researchers spread a fatal flu to an isolated indigenous tribe in Peru.

Indigenous rights activists, Peruvian government officials and a US scientist say four members of the tribe died after the TV producers visited.

A spokesman for the TV company, Cicada Films, said its team did not visit the isolated area in question.

Cicada was in Peru last year scouting locations for a new reality TV show.

The company makes a series called World's Lost Tribes, which is broadcast by the Discovery Channel.

'No evidence'

The production company said a producer and his guide had been given official permission to enter all the areas they visited in Manu National Park.

The team "travelled only a short distance from the large town Yomibato, and only at the invitation of local people," Cicada said in a statement.

"There is no evidence that the researcher introduced illness to the areas they visited.

"The researcher and his guide did not visit the area where the deaths are said to have occurred and no deaths occurred amongst the individuals they met."

Furthermore, Cicada said, the groups lodging the complaint against them had the wrong dates for their visit.

'Too Westernised'

But the Peruvian government's protected areas department said: "The Cicada team entered [remote headwaters] which are part of the strictly protected zone."

A regional rights organisation, Fenamad, also said the Cicada team ignored warnings and travelled upriver to very isolated villages.

An American anthropologist who met the TV team in Peru has also said they complained the first tribal area they visited was "too Westernised" and looked for a more remote location.

The Cicada team is said to have visited the Matsigenka people, who live in the isolated Amazonian Cumerjali area of south-eastern Peru.

Four members of the tribe are reported to have died and others have been seriously ill since the TV team's alleged visit.

Anthropologists believe there are about 15 isolated groups of indigenous people living without contact with the outside world, says the BBC's Dan Collyns in Peru's capital, Lima.

Their isolation means their immune systems have not built up the capacity to deal with illnesses common in less remote regions.

Peru's indigenous communities often complain that timber companies and oil prospectors encroach on their land and spread disease among their members.

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