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Eleven Killed in Police Invasion of Squatters Camp

August 17, 1995

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) _ Nine peasants and two policemen were killed last week during the violent eviction of hundreds of squatters from a ranch in the southern Amazon, a congressional investigation confirmed.

A local bar association chapter said 50 people were also missing. Charred bones were reportedly found in the nearby jungle.

The 11 victims were killed Aug. 9 when police opened fire on a squatters’ camp at the Santa Elina cattle ranch in Corumbiara, about 1,150 miles northwest of Sao Paulo, news reports said.

More than 500 landless families had invaded the ranch in mid-July. They had asked the government to carve out a small plot for them, but local ranchers insisted on expelling them.

Marcos Lemke of the Roman Catholic Church’s Pastoral Land Commission in the state of Rondonia said Wednesday he feared many of the missing could be dead.

Charred bones were found ``buried under the ashes of what seems to have been huge bonfires lit in the jungle where many of the peasants fled to escape the police,″ he said in a telephone interview.

The bones will be analyzed to determine whether they are human remains, Lemke said.

The Rondonia branch office of the Brazilian Bar Association said the number of missing should, however, decrease as peasants returned from their jungle refuge.

Unequal land distribution is at the root of rural violence in Brazil, where 88 percent of the land belongs to 20 percent of the people, and the poorest 40 percent own just 1 percent of the land.

In the past decade, 942 peasants and their supporters have been killed in land disputes, according to the Pastoral Land Commission.

President Fernando Henrique Cardoso has promised to give land to 40,000 families a year.

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