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Saturday, November 8, 1997 Published at 18:48 GMT

Despatches: Americas


The Brazilian Congress's human rights commission says death squads are operating in nine of the country's 27 states. In its latest report, the commission says local politicians and businessmen are often responsible for hiring the gunmen who carry out summary executions and it points to the involement of policemen in many of the extra-judicial killings. With more details, here's our Brazil correspondent, Stephen Cviic:

"Brazilians are used to the idea that their big cities are dangerous places. In the 1980s the world was shocked to learn of the murder of street children in Rio de Janeiro, often by policemen determined to wipe out what they saw as a social nuisance. These killings still go on and Friday's report names both Rio and Sao Paulo as the home of some of the country's death squads. However, the area singled out for special mention by the congressional human rights commission is a long way from the urban centres of Brazil's Atlantic seaboard. It's the western state of Mato Grosso do Sul, which lies at the heart of South America, on the border with Bolivia and Paraguay. The commission quotes a local human rights group as saying that nearly 90 of the state's inhabitants were summarily executed in the first seven months of this year. Thirty-six of these killings are said to have taken place in one medium-sized town. This region of Brazil seems to have become particularly violent precisely because of its frontier character. According to the commission, many of the killings are carried out on the orders of local politicians and farmers who may be involved in smuggling cocaine, weapons and other goods in from abroad. And the report does nothing for the tattered reputation of Brazil's police force. It says the supposed law enforcers of Mato Grosso do Sul are often among the gunmen hired for contract killings. The commission says it can't accept that these crimes are insoluble but it acknowledges that there are penalties for those who speak out. Last week a journalist known for his attacks on the climate of violence in the region was shot dead as he left a cafe where he had just had breakfast."

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