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Friday, 18 August, 2000, 22:54 GMT 23:54 UK
Brazil jails police peasant killers
Brazilian policemen await sentencing
Airton Ramos de Morais (left) and Daniel Furtado (right) were both jailed
A court in Brazil has given two policemen convicted of killing a group of peasant land reform campaigners long jail sentences.

Airton Ramos de Morais and Daniel Furtado were sentenced to 18 and 16 years respectively.

The pair were earlier found guilty of shooting dead the three peasants, who were among a group of squatters protesting about the distribution of land in rural areas, in 1995.

Violence erupted when police launched a raid on the squatters' camp, on land near the southern Amazonian town of Corumbiara.

A third man was acquitted, but nine other officers who also took part in the operation are due to faces similar charges.

Police raid

Land-related disputes are common in Brazil, but this case centres on one of the bloodiest incidents.

Map of Brazil
Ten people were killed when police opened fire.

An inquest revealed that seven of those who died were shot at repeatedly at point blank range.

Defence lawyers argued that the officers were defending themselves when the peasants responded to a formal eviction order with gunfire.

But the seven-member journey, sitting in the capital of the Amazonian state of Rondonia, Port Velho, took only three hours to convict the pair.

Tension

A BBC correspondent says there is likely to be considerable tension when two landless people are tried over the deaths of two policemen killed during the same raid.

Brazilian police break up land-reform demonstration
Land-related disputes often end in violence
Land rights remain extremely controversial in Brazil, which has the second most unequally distributed land in the world.

Poor rural people often illegally occupy areas to protest against the fact that 90% of Brazil's land belongs to just 20% of the population.

Despite government claims that redistribution schemes are addressing the problem, and rural violence has fallen, about 1,000 people are believed to have been killed over land disputes.

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See also:

14 Aug 00 | Americas
Brazil landless massacre trial opens
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
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