May 2, 2009

Brazil clears Indian reservation

A deadline has passed for non-indigenous residents of an Indian reservation in northern Brazil to leave the area.

It follows a landmark ruling by the country's Supreme Court that the Raposa Serra do Sol reservation should be solely for indigenous people.

The non-indigenous rice farmers and farm workers say they are victims of "legalised robbery".

But the authorities say they will be properly compensated.

In March, Brazil's Supreme Court ruled that the area in the northern border state of Roraima should be maintained as a single continuous territory exclusively for use by the indigenous population.

The decision was hailed as a major victory for indigenous rights, and was also regarded as setting an important precedent for future court cases.

However, the ruling was also a defeat for the non-indigenous rice producers and farm workers who lived and worked in the area, and who said their removal would undermine the economy of Roraima.

Around 300 police and soldiers are now reported to have begun an operation to remove any remaining rice producers and farm workers from the 1.7 million hectare reservation.

There were said to be around 30 non-indigenous families in the reservation as the deadline approached, but the authorities say force will only be used if they meet with violent resistance.

Some of the rice producers have been criticised for destroying farm buildings as they left the area.

'Human zoo'

Indigenous Brazilian in the Raposa Serra do Sol reservation celebrate the court ruling (19 March 2009)
The court ruling was greeted as a victory by the indigenous population

As this sensitive operation was getting underway, the governor of Roraima, Jose de Anchieta Jr, was accused of racism by the state agency which looks after indigenous rights.

The governor said the federal government had not provided sufficient resources for the local indigenous population to live in the reservation, which he said had unfortunately been turned into a "human zoo."

The authorities insist they will provide the necessary support.

The reservation, which is in the far north of Brazil on the border with Venezuela and Guyana, is home to around 20,000 indigenous people.

Officials say the operation to ensure the Supreme Court ruling has been obeyed could take some days to complete.

By Gary Duffy
BBC News, Sao Paulo

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