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Thursday, November 13, 1997 Published at 16:56 GMT

Despatches: Americas
Stephen Cviic
From Brazil

A federal judge in Brazil has ordered the government to pay nearly fifty thousand dollars to surviving members of an Indian tribe that was nearly wiped out in the 1970s. The judge, Novely da Silva Reis, said the state was responsible for the damage caused to the Panara people when they came into contact with workers who were building a road through their region. With more details here's our Brazil correspondent, Stephen Cviic;

Until the early 1970s the Panara tribe lived an almost totally isolated existence in the Mato Grosso region of western Brazil. In those days the country's vast interior remained relatively unexplored and there were several indigenous tribes that had had no contact with other Brazilians. But from the 1950s onwards and especially under the military government which took power in 1964, Brazilians were urged to look west and to exploit the huge economic potential that was thought to lie in the jungles and grasslands of the interior. It seems that the Panara became the victims of one of the military's grandest projects -- an enormous road that would run south from the Amazon river right down the middle of the country. When the road-builders entered the region the Panara came into contact with unfamiliar diseases, such as influenza, to which they had no resistance. According to Mr Da Silva Reis, the Indians were also profoundly affected by the strange customs brought by the outsiders such as the consumption of alcohol. The result was a disaster for the Panara whose numbers fell from 260 to about 80 in just two years. They were then transported north to an Indian reservation in the Amazon region where they came into contact with another hostile tribe causing their numbers to fall even further. This court ruling is a considerable victory for the Panara who will now receive some compensation for the hardships they have suffered but many observers say that Brazil's indigenous people still need to be protected from outsiders who roam the interior seeking the land and minerals that they hope will make them rich."

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