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Monday, 14 August, 2000, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
Brazil landless massacre trial opens
Landless people taken into police custody
Land distribution is a sensitive issue in Brazil
By Brazil correspondent Stephen Cviic

A major security operation is under way in the northern Brazilian city of Porto Velho, where the trial has begun of 13 policemen and two landless peasants accused of murder during a land conflict.

About 600 police have been deployed in and around the city and they have been carrying out searches of the thousands of landless campaigners who have arrived to follow the trial.

The Corumbiara massacre of 1995 was one of the seminal moments in the history of Brazil's landless movement. On 9 August that year, state police tried to evict about 500 squatters from a farm in the Amazon region.

Point-blank

Prosecutors say that hundreds of law enforcers encircled the camp in the early hours of the morning and then went in with their guns blazing.

But police say they were simply carrying out a judicial order and had to respond to gunfire from the squatters.

In the end, two policemen and at least nine landless people were killed.

Autopsy reports showed that some of the squatters had been shot at point-blank range.

Protest fears

This trial has taken a long time to come to court and it will be watched with anxiety by the local authorities.

Unequal land distribution is still a sensitive issue in the region and there will certainly be protests by the landless campaigners if the policemen are found not guilty.

Events like the Corumbiara massacre were fundamental in persuading the Brazilian Government to start a major agrarian reform programme; over the past few years the number of people killed in land conflicts in Brazil has steadily fallen.

But the now powerful landless movement points to the fact that Brazil still has the second most unequal land distribution on the planet.

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See also:

05 May 00 | Americas
Brazil gets tough on land squatters
04 May 00 | Americas
Analysis: Fight for land in Brazil
03 May 00 | Americas
Landless protests continue in Brazil
03 May 00 | Americas
Peasants' protest sweeps Brazil
06 Apr 00 | Americas
Brazilian land activist walks free
21 Aug 99 | Americas
Brazilian police trial suspended
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