Prospectors attacked by Amazon Indians

Thursday, April 15, 2004

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- An Amazon Indian attack on prospectors who were illegally digging for diamonds on a reservation in northern Brazil may have killed as many as 35 people, officials said Wednesday. Police are in contact with other heavily armed prospectors who entered the Roosevelt Indian reservation in Rondonia state, some 2,100 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro. The prospectors hoped to recover the bodies of colleagues apparently killed in the clash with Cinta Larga Indians on April 7. "They've told us by satellite phone they've recovered 19 bodies and they believe 35 were killed," Rondonia state policeman Anderson Souza Silva said Wednesday by telephone from Espiagao d'Oeste, the town nearest the reservation.

On Tuesday, Rondonia state Gov. Ivo Cassol traveled to Brasilia to discuss the situation with federal officials. Cassol met with Justice Minister Marcio Thomaz Bastos, who agreed to dispatch a federal task force to the region Wednesday to try to resolve the situation.

In Brazil, Indian reservations are under federal jurisdiction and are off-limits to state police. Federal police are on strike but allowed the federal agents to join the mission.

Federal police in Rondonia said unofficially they believe 27 prospectors have been killed in the attack last Wednesday. They expected to have an official statement later in the day.

On Sunday, police found three bodies in an area where survivors said the attack took place. Police estimated that 150 non-Indian miners were in the reservation at the time.

"I ran away and hid in the forest when the Indians attacked with rifles," prospector Walter da Silva told The Associated Press by telephone from the police station in Espigao d'Oeste. "When we came back, our tents were all burned down and we found a grave with three bodies, but I think between 12 and 20 people died."

It was not immediately clear what set off the attack, though tensions between prospectors and Indians have flared often in recent years. Brazilian law forbids mining on Indian reservations, but several chiefs have become rich charging prospectors for access to the reservation, believed to hold South America's largest diamond reserves.

On Friday, a crowd of miners tied a Cinta Larga Indian to a tree in the town square in Espigao d'Oeste and threatened to kill him, police said. Police freed the man after negotiating with the miners for several hours.

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