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Brazil delays Indian land ruling

Indigenous Brazilians inside the country's Supreme Court
Indigenous groups say the ruling is crucial for the community

Brazil's Supreme Court has delayed a decision on the future of one of the country's biggest indigenous reserves.

One of the judges deciding whether the Raposa Serra do Sol reservation should remain a single unbroken territory said he wanted more time.

Indian leaders believe the case will set a crucial precedent regarding the protection of their rights and land.

Non-indigenous farmers demanding to stay in the region say their eviction would harm its economic development.

Indigenous groups arrived in the capital, Brasilia, to make their voice heard, staging a traditional protest just across the road from where the Supreme Court judges will reach their decision.

Inside the courtroom, the BBC's Gary Duffy said the divisions between the two parties could not be clearer - with one side wearing traditional Indian headgear and face paint, and the other side dressed in suits or jeans and short-sleeved shirts.

Conflict

The Indian reservation known as Raposa Serra do Sol is home to 19,000 people and was given official status in 2005.

Map showing location of reserve

Indian leaders want the court to confirm that the reservation, which stretches over 1.7m hectares (4.2m acres), should be preserved as a single unbroken territory.

They say if the court decides against them it will send a signal to land grabbers, prospectors and loggers that it would be acceptable to invade indigenous territory.

However, about 200 non-indigenous farmers who live and work in the area say if the court upholds the reservation's status they will be forced to leave, harming Roraima's economy.

The judge overseeing the case was only able to deliver his conclusion that Raposa Serra do Sol should be preserved as a continuous territory before a colleague asked for the hearing to be suspended to allow more time for deliberation.

Our correspondent said the delay seemed to be just another indication of the sensitivity of the case.

The issue has been the subject of growing tension and conflict between the two sides.

Indigenous lawyer Joenia Batista de Carvalho says the ruling will be crucial for her community.

"This judgement is the most historic for indigenous people. It is the most important moment after the constitution of 1988," she said.

"It is a situation that reaffirms what has been approved by the national congress and reinforces the application of our rights. It is fundamental, because they are discussing our lives."

'Flag bearers'

But rice farmer and local mayor Paulo Quartiero says the farmers are a vital part of the economy in the state of Roraima.

"We are the flag bearers of our state's calling to be a great agricultural producer - a great food producer not only for the Amazon but also for the world," he said. "So this represents a seed which if it is suffocated will cause extraordinary damage."

Mr Qaurtiero has been jailed twice for resisting eviction from the reservation - on one occasion when his employees shot and wounded 10 Indians.

There are more than 100 similar cases before the Supreme Court but it is thought this ruling will establish an important legal precedent.

There has also been concern among military leaders that a large Indian reservation on Brazil's border undermines the country's sovereignty - a claim strongly contested by indigenous communities who say it would remain Brazilian territory.

There is only one issue on which all sides in this argument are agreed, and that is over the importance of this judgement and its longer-term implications.


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