Brazilian police clash with indigenous group as mining tensions erupt

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SAO PAULO, November 17 (Reuters) – Brazilian military police clashed with an indigenous group in the Amazonian state of Roraima, in the northern Amazon, during an operation to lift a roadblock, a the state government announced on Wednesday, as tensions mounted in the reservation over illegal gold mining and land invasions.

The Raposa Serra do Sol reserve, site of the incident that occurred on Tuesday, has become a flashpoint for rival indigenous movements in Brazil. President Jair Bolsonaro recently visited a faction that shares its support for mining on tribal lands.

The Roraima Indigenous Council (CIR) said six people were injured in a clash described as an “invasion”. On Facebook, he shared photos of the aftermath, including an image of indigenous men with bleeding wounds to their heads and breasts.

The CIR said the barricades are designed to prevent illegal gold miners from entering the territory.

In a statement issued by the Roraima state government, police said they were following a court order to remove roadblocks on highways.

They said the roadblock organizers initially dispersed when police arrived, but later returned with a group of around 100 people, armed with bows, arrows and machetes.

A policewoman was hit by an arrow in the leg, the statement said, adding that she was recovering well.

“At no time has lethal weapons or ammunition been used,” police said.

Tensions are mounting between the two main indigenous groups in Raposa Serra do Sol, as Reuters reported earlier this year.

The CIR is committed to protecting the land from illegal gold miners who are increasingly digging in the reserve.

A rival group, the Society for the Defense of the United Indians of Roraima (Sodiurr), supports gold mining and argues that they have the right to mine resources underground.

Sodiurr has gone to court to demand the removal of the roadblocks.

In a statement, Sodiurr said he supported the police operation and that the barricade “inspired violence among indigenous peoples“.

Bolsonaro has been supportive of Sodiurr, repeatedly meeting with its leaders, visiting one of their communities on the reserve last month and endorsing their vision for mining on indigenous lands.

The president encouraged mining and commercial agriculture on native reserves and sent a bill to Congress to try to legalize these activities.

“If you want to plant, plant! If you want to mine, then mine!” he said during the visit to Raposa Serra do Sol.

Indigenous rights activists say Bolsonaro is exacerbating tensions within tribes through divisive-rule methods that have historically helped destroy indigenous lands around the world.

Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer Editing by Brad Haynes and David Gregorio

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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