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Last Updated:  Friday, 21 February, 2003, 12:33 GMT
Tribals cleared from elephant reserve
By Venkitesh Ramakrishnan
BBC correspondent in Sultan Bathery, Kerala

The tribals face up to the police
The tribals face up to the police
The authorities in the southern Indian state of Kerala say they have cleared a wildlife sanctuary which was illegally occupied by more than 1,000 tribal people.

Officials said armed police and wildlife officials carried out the operation.

It took the authorities two days to clear the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary.

The sanctuary, which is in Wyanad district, is famous for its elephants.

Bows and arrows

The operation to clear the forest began on Wednesday.

Armed police were called in after tribals attacked wildlife officials with traditional weapons such as bows and arrows.

Some reports said at least five people were killed in pitched battles and police firing.

The authorities said more than a thousand tribals had illegally occupied the sanctuary on 3 January.

They were demanding five acres of land for each family which they said had been promised by the state government.

The occupation of the sanctuary led to protests by wildlife activists and forest officials who said that the tribals were obstructing a vital elephant corridor - a path used by roaming herds of elephants in southern India.

Appeal rejected

The Muthanga sanctuary is situated in the middle of a 300-square-kilometre forest.

Wounded tribals
Some of the tribals were wounded in the fighting

It forms part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.

Noolpuzha River, which flows through the sanctuary, attracts elephants from different parts of Nilgiri range during the summer.

The Chief Minister of Kerala, AK Antony, had requested the federal Environment and Forests Ministry to allow the tribals to live in the sanctuary.

But his appeal was rejected.

The ministry said such a move would have set a wrong precedent and led to similar demands from tribals in others areas.



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