RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Cinta Larga Indians have taken a U.N. representative and three other people hostage, officials said Monday.
Federal Indian Bureau President Marcio Meira was flying to Roosevelt reservation in the Amazon state of Rondonia to negotiate their release, said a spokeswoman who declined to be identified according to agency policy.
Federal police inspector Rodrigo Carvalho said that the Cinta Larga invited David Martins Castro, a representative of the U.N. the High Commission for Human Rights, to a meeting on Sunday, but then prevented his group from leaving.
"Right now the situation is calm, the hostages are being well treated. We are only waiting" for the head of the Indian Bureau to negotiate, Carvalho said by phone from the state capital of Rondonia.
A federal prosecutor and two other people accompanied Martins.
Hostage takings are a fairly common tactic among Amazon Indians and the situations are usually resolved within hours or days.
Cinta Larga Indians in 2004 massacred 29 illegal wildcat diamond miners on their remote reservation, which holds what is believed to be the largest diamond lode in South America.
The massacre ended a four-year-long diamond rush by miners from across Brazil who converged on the 6.7 million acre reservation.
Indians are demanding that federal police, who are posted at all the main entrances to the reservation, make it easier for Indians to come and go. They also want better health care, education and job opportunities.
Twenty-eight Indians have been charged in the 2004 killings, but the case has stalled over jurisdictional questions about the special status of Indians and their reservations under Brazil's constitution.
Brazilian law bans mining of any kind on Indian reservations, but in recent years, federal authorities have opened some exceptions for Cinta Larga to sell their diamonds.
Under pressure from the Cinta Larga, Brazilian legislators are considering changing the law to allow mining by Indians on reservations. But the move is opposed by some Indian rights group that fear the easy money will destroy the Indians' culture.
Mining companies also are lobbying to be allowed on to reservations, paying the tribes royalties.
The Brazilian Mines and Energy Ministry estimates some $2 billion worth of diamonds have been smuggled off the reservation in the past few years.