Men armed with rifles, clubs and machetes attacked a group of Indians occupying ranch land in Brazil’s northeastern state of Maranhao, injuring at least seven people, officials said Tuesday. The Roman Catholic Church’s Indigenous Missionary Council said gunmen attacked members of the Gamela indigenous group who last week occupied what they consider ancestral lands that are now being used as pasture for cattle. The council charged that the attackers were hired by ranchers.
The Maranhao state government said seven people were injured in Sunday’s attack. The church group put the number at 13. No deaths were reported. Rosimeire Diniz, one of the council’s coordinators, said by phone that the attackers severed the hands of two Gamela people. The state government said no one had their hands hacked off.
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About 400 families, or some 2,000 people, comprise the Gamela group and they occupy a territory of about 1,250 acres, Diniz said. She said Gamela leaders estimate the group’s ancestral lands once covered 34,600 acres. ”Over the years, their land was reduced by loggers, miners and ranchers,” she said.
The attack came about a week after police in Brasilia shot tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse thousands of indigenous people who gathered outside Congress demanding the demarcation of their lands. Land disputes involving indigenous groups, loggers, ranchers and small-scale farmers frequently turn violent in Brazil. Last year, 61 people were killed in violence stemming from land disputes, according to the Brazil-based Pastoral Land Commission of the Catholic Church. Of this total, 13 were members of indigenous groups.
”Rural activists and indigenous leaders involved in conflicts over land continue to face threats and violence in Brazil,” Human Rights Watch said in its 2017 World Report.