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Court backs Amazonian Indians in land dispute

By Marco Sibaja
Associated Press / March 20, 2009
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BRASILIA, Brazil - The Supreme Court sided yesterday with Amazonian Indians in a land dispute that turned violent last year when authorities tried to evict rice farmers from a government-decreed reservation.

The court ruling upholds the 4.2 million acre Raposa Serra do Sol reservation for 18,000 Indians who lay claim to their ancestral land, despite a handful of large-scale farmers who also occupy the territory in the northernmost reaches of Amazon jungle bordering Venezuela.

While the ruling solidifies Indian rights, detractors said it does nothing to prevent another violent outbreak.

"There is no peaceful solution," Nelson Itikawa, president of the Roraima Rice Growers Association, told the government's Agencia Brasil news service. "It's possible there will be a conflict - there are people who will lose control."

Though the dispute involves only a few thousand people in remote Roraima state, it represents a large divide among Brazilians over land development and sovereignty.

A long history of Indian repression and paranoia about international intervention in the Amazon loomed large in the case, said Brasilia political analyst Alexandre Barros.

"Old sins have long shadows, and there are a lot of sins on all sides that complicate this case," he said.

Roraima leaders - including an Army general who threatened to defend the farmers in defiance of national law - have said that leaving the reservation in Indian hands is a threat to national security and strangles economic growth in the sparsely populated state.

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