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Brazil backs 'Guardians of the Amazon' in their war on loggers

by Karla Mendes | @karlamendes | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 23 May 2018 18:39 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: An indigenous man takes part in a protest against the approval of Proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC) 215 and against the possible appointment of Senator Katia Abreu (PMDB-TO) to the Ministry of Agriculture, in front of the Planalto Palace in Brasilia November 26, 2014. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

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South America's largest country is grappling with scores of deadly land conflicts

By Karla Mendes

RIO DE JANEIRO, May 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In a rare move, Brazil is providing armed backup to Indians protecting the world's most threatened tribe from illegal loggers, a decision that campaigners lauded as a "landmark" in efforts to halt deforestation in the Amazon.

Officials moved in to the Brazilian rainforest after a group of from indigenous Guajajara tribe, who call themselves The Guardians of the Amazon, seized a logging gang and burned their truck, rights group Survival International said.

"Over the weekend, a team of Ibama (Brazil's environmental protection agency) and environmental military police arrived in response to The Guardians' call for help," said Sarah Shenker, a senior campaigner with the rights group Survival International.

"That was a landmark moment, I would say, because The Guardians hardly ever receive support," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

South America's largest country is grappling with scores of deadly land conflicts, illustrating the tensions between preserving indigenous culture and economic development.

The Arariboia area in northeast Brazil is home to the Awa Indians, several hundred hunter-gatherers described by Survival International as the most threatened tribe in the world because they have nowhere to retreat to if their forest is cut down.

The government has struggled to protect the vast territory amid budget cuts and increasing political pressure to opening up indigenous reserves to mining, Survival International said.

A spokesman at Ibama declined to comment on the ongoing operation. The indigenous affairs agency, Funai, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Brazil's uncontacted tribes, some of the last on earth, depend on large areas of unspoiled forest land to hunt animals and gather the food they need to survive.

They are particularly vulnerable when their land rights are threatened because they lack the natural immunity to diseases that are carried by outsiders.

The joint patrol is moving into another area where The Guardians found a second loggers' camp, Shenker said. Three Guardians were killed by loggers in 2016 and they often face death threats and arson attacks, she said.

(Reporting by Karla Mendes; Editing by Katy Migiro; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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