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Page last updated at 23:59 GMT, Thursday, 17 September 2009 00:59 UK

Brazil indigenous village 'burnt'

By Gary Duffy
BBC News, Sao Paulo

Guarani Kaoiwa roadside camp
The community is living by a road after their village was burnt

A community of 130 indigenous people has been evicted from their land in Brazil and their village was later set on fire, an international campaign group says.

Survival International says families from the Guarani Kaoiwa people are now living at the side of a road in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul in very primitive and dangerous conditions.

Campaigners for indigenous rights say the community of around 35 families, including 60 children and teenagers, was evicted last week as the result of legal action taken by a local landowner, who is himself a lawyer.

Disputes between local farmers and indigenous groups over what is farmland purchased in good faith, and what is indigenous ancestral land are common in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul.

In a report released earlier this year the UN highlighted the chronic shortage of land among the Guarani, which is the largest indigenous group in Brazil.

Farmers in the area say that when non-indigenous people are removed from land set aside for indigenous people they are not properly compensated, and that there is a constant uncertainty about which land may be considered for demarcation.

Indigenous groups accuse farmers of using violence and threats to prevent state officials from establishing what should be ancestral Indian land, and point out that land conflicts have led to many deaths.

Ancestors 'destroyed'

Following the latest eviction, the village belonging to the Guarani-Kaiowa people was also set on fire and destroyed, and some animals that had been left behind were killed.

The incident caused even greater distress because according to traditional indigenous beliefs the fire would have destroyed the spirits of the people's ancestors who are regarded as living among the community.

It is absolutely shocking and just shows what the Guarani are up against
Fiona Watson, Survival International

The families who had to leave the village are now said to be living at the side of a road in a makeshift encampment wedged between a busy road and farmland which is being protected by security guards.

The indigenous people of Laranjeira Nanderu say they had set up home two years ago on what was their ancestral land, and they were trying to have the area demarcated or recognised as such by the Brazilian state.

There was no immediate comment about the eviction from Funai, the Brazilian state agency responsible for the welfare of indigenous peoples.

However, it has been strongly criticised by Survival International, which campaigns for the rights of indigenous peoples, as well as by Amnesty International.

"It is absolutely shocking and just shows what the Guarani are up against," Survival's Brazil campaigner Fiona Watson told the BBC.

"Immensely powerful economic and political forces that seem to be able to do what they like. They can get these eviction orders and the Guarani can be turfed off their land.

"This is doubly disastrous because public prosecutors had said it is an urgent matter and land must be demarcated and far from being demarcated they are still evicting people.

"This is a pattern - there have been so many violent evictions and this is another one."

'Social ills'

Xingu river in the Amazon rain forest, Brazil
The Guarani are spread across Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina

Egon Heck, the co-ordinator of the Indigenous Missionary Council (Cimi) in Mato Grosso do Sul, said while the government had expressed the will to resolve the land situation, judges were taking decisions that set the process back.

"Cimi laments even more that farmers and ranchers commit acts that copy the colonial era, intimidating and evicting indigenous people from their territories using methods like arson and all kinds of threats."

The plight of the Guarani people has long been a source of international concern, and is the subject of the award-winning film Birdwatchers.

Hundreds of Guarani are said to have committed suicide in the last two decades, which campaigners say is often the result of the despair that comes with living in overcrowded reservations associated with violence and problems linked to heavy drinking.

In his report, the UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous People, James Anaya, found that "extreme poverty and a range of social ills - even malnutrition and starvation in some cases - now plague the Guarani Kaiowa and Nhandeva people of Mato Grosso do Sul".

There are said to be around 46,000 Guarani living in seven states in Brazil, while many others live in neighbouring Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina.



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