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Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 06:38 GMT 07:38 UK
Brazilian policeman jailed for massacre
Brazilian policemen await sentencing
These policemen were convicted - but 19 others were cleared
By Stephen Cviic in Sao Paolo

A Brazilian policeman has been sentenced to 45 years in prison for his part in a notorious massacre in a shanty town which left 21 people dead.

Jose Fernandes Neto is the fifth officer to be convicted of the crime, which took place in Rio de Janeiro in August 1993.

Mr Fernandes was one of a group of hooded officers who entered the Vigario Geral shanty town to avenge the deaths of four of their colleagues.

It was a horrific crime which shocked the world.

Slow justice

Their victims included a family of seven gunned down in their house and eight other people who were drinking in a local bar.

Brazilian police break up land-reform demonstration
Efforts to reform the police have had mixed results
But the wheels of justice grind extremely slowly in Brazil.

The first convictions only happened five years later and several other policemen have yet to stand trial.

Nineteen other policemen have been cleared of the crime.

The indiscriminate revenge killings at Vigario Geral highlighted the complex relationship between police and local drug gangs and drew attention to the failings of Brazil's law enforcers.

Since then various state governments, especially in Rio and Sao Paulo, have attempted to reform their police forces - with mixed results.

Impunity

One of the biggest problems is impunity.

Trials involving policemen take a long time to come to court and when they do they are often controversial.

Earlier this month a group of 12 officers stood trial accused of involvement in the killing of landless people in the northern state of Para.

But the case rapidly descended into farce when the prosecuting lawyer called for several of the policemen to be absolved.

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See also:

18 Aug 00 | Americas
Brazil jails police peasant killers
26 Aug 00 | Americas
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05 Jul 00 | Americas
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14 Aug 00 | Americas
Brazil landless massacre trial opens
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Analysis: Fight for land in Brazil
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