January 12, 2001

Brazilian police blamed for brutal Indian murders

                  BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) -- Indian leaders in Brazil's remote Northeast
                  accused police on Friday of the brutal murder of two fellow tribal members,
                  who officers allegedly tortured and decapitated before setting their bodies ablaze
                  in a failed bid to prevent identification.

                  The charred corpses of Nilson Felix, 16, and his father Jose de No Felix, 38, of
                  the Truka Indian tribe were found earlier this week outside the city of Petrolina,
                  nearly 430 miles (700 km) from Recife, the capital of Pernambuco state.

                  "I helped identify Jose. His skull was not completely burned, and he had these
                  crooked teeth," tribal leader Ailson Truka told Reuters after news of the murders
                  broke in national media on Friday. "Neighbors saw the police do it... They
                  covered their bodies with tires to make the fire hotter."

                  Police in Pernambuco said they opened an investigation but refused to offer
                  details, disclosing only that they had taken testimony from five civilian witnesses
                  and 15 officers.

                  The deaths are the latest in a growing series of confrontations between Indians
                  and invading farmers and police, who have raided the reservation to investigate
                  drug trafficking in the area.

                  According to members of the Truka tribe, police raided their reservation on
                  January 4 -- shooting Nilson in the arm and the chest. Wounded, Nilson made
                  his way back to the village to find his father, who drove him to a local hospital

                  When hospital staff told Nilson's father they did not have the training to treat his
                  gunshot wounds, an ambulance driver and a nurse took the two on the main
                  highway toward the hospital in Petrolina -- only to run into a police blockade.

                  "The driver told us there were about 50 police officers on the road, and some of
                  them were wearing masks. They took Nilson and his father out of the car,
                  saying they would bring them to the hospital," Ailson said. "No one heard from
                  them again."

                  The corpses were found by family members four days later. The arms and legs
                  of the corpses were broken, and their severed heads lay alongside their bodies.

                  Human rights groups are demanding federal authorities intervene in the local
                  investigation, saying they don't believe Pernambuco police will identify and
                  prosecute fellow officers.

                  "We are worried that if the federal government does not step in here, this will
                  wind up another forgotten killing, another case of police impunity," said Jose
                  Viera, of the Catholic Church-based Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI).

                  The 4,000-member Truka tribe, who live on a Puerto Rico-sized reservation in
                  the middle of Brazil's most notorious marijuana producing region, have had a
                  number of recent run-ins with police.

                  Last year, two 26 year-olds were allegedly murdered by police, with one shot in
                  front of his wife and two daughters.

                  According Viera, drug trafficking has served as the main excuse for police to
                  raid the reservation -- allegedly at the service of invading ranchers, who usurp
                  plots of Indian land.

                  After the tribe evicted 64 farmers from Truka eight months ago, police launched
                  a major raid -- dropping tear gas from helicopters while officers moved in by
                  land to arrest and, according to CIMI, subsequently torture six tribal leaders,
                  allegedly repeatedly striking their genitalia with sticks.

                  "What we want is for people outside of here to know what is happening to us.
                  We're hoping someone will help," Ailson said.

                     Copyright 2001 Reuters.