SAO PAULO – Soldiers of the elite National Force have been sent to central-western Brazil where hundreds of Terena Indians are occupying a ranch they say is on ancestral lands, the Justice Ministry said Wednesday.
In a statement posted on its website, the ministry said a contingent of 110 soldiers had been dispatched to Mato Grosso do Sul state, which has recently seen growing tensions between Indians and ranchers.
"The objective is to guarantee public order and avoid conflicts," Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo said in the statement.
Some 200 Terena Indians occupied the Buriti ranch on May 15. Two weeks later police evicted them in a violent clash during which one Indian was shot dead and five officers were injured. The next day, the Indians occupied the ranch again.
A new eviction order was issued, and Funai, the federal indigenous affairs agency, was told to peacefully move the Indians off the ranch on Wednesday. Funai's press office said a judge suspended the new eviction notice until a federal court rules on the case.
The Indians are also protesting a proposed constitutional amendment that would reduce the role played by Funai in demarcating land for Indian reservations.
Under the proposal, Congress and other federal agencies like the government's agricultural research institute would also have a say in the demarcation of indigenous territory.
The amendment is backed by the congressional caucus of rural property owners, which says the present demarcation system reduces their production possibilities.