Sunday, May 11, 2008

Brazil Sends Troops to Indian Territory - Brazilian Government Rejects Indigenous Self-Determination

By Rodrigo Viga Gaier

RIO DE JANEIRO, May 8 (Reuters) - Brazil will permanently station troops in Indian reservations along its borders in response to growing concerns that its territorial sovereignty is at risk, Defense Minister Nelson Jobim said on Thursday.

Indian lands account for roughly 12 percent of Brazil's vast territory and border on nearly all of its nine neighbors.

"We want to be clear on something fundamental -- Indian lands are Brazilian lands," Jobim said.

"There are no nations or Indian peoples, there are Brazilians who are Indians," he told reporters following a ceremony to commemorate the end of World War Two in Europe.

The government will decide how many troops to deploy and where to station them in the next three months, he said.

A land conflict between Indians and farmers in northern Roraima state has fueled concerns by the military and conservative politicians that foreigners including Colombian rebels could penetrate Brazil through unprotected reserves.

At least one former Venezuelan army official entered the Roraima reservation to train gunmen, and a Venezuelan flag was raised on one farm, Indian leaders and media reported.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva dismissed such concerns on Thursday and praised the Indians for their loyalty.

"Much of the Brazilian army is made up of Indians ... . How often have the Indians defended our borders?" Lula said at a ceremony to outline government development policies in the Amazon.

"An Indian in the middle of the Amazon who as a Brazilian citizen and voter doesn't receive any benefits of the state will be just as rebellious as a man living in a Rio de Janeiro shantytown without water, school or anything to do," he said.

The government sent police reinforcements to the Roraima reservation on Tuesday and arrested a local farm leader after gunmen shot and wounded 10 Indians.

The dispute began last month when police tried to evict rice farmers from the reservation created by the government in 2005. But farmers who claim the same land have resisted by blocking roads, blowing up bridges and hiring gunmen.

Farmers and forestry and mining companies in several parts of Brazil are concerned with growing demands for land by Brazil's estimated 750,000 Indians.

Ninety-two Indians were killed last year in conflicts related to land disputes. (Additional reporting by Raymond Colitt) (Writing by Raymond Colitt; Editing by Xavier Briand)


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