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Brazilian indigenous land defender killed in Amazon ambush

Indigenous leader Paulo Paulino Guajajara and his partner Laercio were members of “Guardians of the forest”, a group who attempt to protect their land from illegal logging.

SNS | New Delhi |

A Brazilian indigenous land defender was killed and a second injured in an ambush by illegal loggers in the Amazon rainforest, regional authorities reported. Indigenous leader Paulo Paulino Guajajara and his partner Laercio were members of “Guardians of the forest”, a group who attempt to protect their land from illegal logging.

The two men had left their village on Friday night to look for water when the attack occurred, the Human Rights Secretariat of the Maranhao governorate said on Twitter. The tribesmen are members of an indigenous forest guard called Guardians of the Forest, which formed in 2012 to ward off logging gangs pillaging their rare, hardwood-rich reserve.

Paulo Paulino was shot in the neck and died in the jungle, according to the International Survival organization, who said his partner was injured but managed to escape. A logger has also been reported missing.

According to The Guardian, earlier this year Paulino told Survival International, “It makes me so mad to see this [forest destruction]. These people think they can come here, into our home, and help themselves to our forest? No. We won’t allow it. We don’t break into their houses and rob them, do we? My blood is boiling. I’m so angry.”

The murder took place in the Arariboia indigenous territory, roughly 500 kilometers from state capital Sao Luis. Sérgio Moro, the justice minister of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro’s government, confirmed that Brazil’s federal police were investigating the killing. “We will spare no effort to bring those responsible for this serious crime to justice,” he tweeted.

“Paulino and Laercio are the most recent victims of a state that refuses to comply with what the constitution determines,” Greenpeace said in a statement. Survival International researcher Sarah Shenker, who was in the region in April, said the work of the Guajajara is important to protect other indigenous people in the area.

“The Brazilian government has to accept that it is their responsibility to protect those lands. That they do not, their absence there, is what pushes the guardians to assume this defense, a very hard and dangerous job,” Shenker told AFP.

Three other guardians have died in previous attacks. “It is time to stop this institutionalized genocide. Stop authorizing the bloodshed of our people!” Sonia Guajajara, coordinator of the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, said on Twitter.

Since taking office in January, Bolsonaro has been accused of harming the Amazon and indigenous tribes in order to benefit his supporters in the logging, mining and farming industries.

(With inputs from AFP)