Brazil court rules on Indian land

The Supreme Court of Brazil is expected to make a landmark judgement later on the rights of indigenous people.

It will rule on whether a reservation in the Amazonian state of Roraima can remain a single unbroken territory.

Indian leaders in Brazil say the case could set a crucial precedent for the protection of their ancestral lands.

But rice farmers say they could be forced to leave the area if the court upholds its status as an official reservation, given in 2005.

There are more than 100 similar cases before the Supreme Court but it is thought this ruling will establish an important legal precedent which touches on a number of sensitive issues.

Unbroken territory

At the centre of this case is a large area of land in the far north of Brazil, known as Raposa Serra do Sol, which is home to 19,000 Amazonian Indians and which was approved as an official reservation in 2005.

Indian leaders want the court to confirm that the reservation, which stretches over 1.7m hectares, should be preserved as a single unbroken territory.

They say if the court rules against them it will send a signal to land grabbers, prospectors and loggers that it would be acceptable to invade indigenous territory.

However, around 200 rice producers who also live and work in the area say that would force them to leave and would undermine economic development in the state of Roraima.

To add to a complicated dispute, one indigenous group in the reservation supports the farmers, and the issue has been the subject of growing tension and conflict.

Some military leaders say they fear a large, almost autonomous Indian reservation running along a lengthy section of Brazil's frontier would have implications for national security - a claim strongly contested by indigenous communities who say it would remain Brazilian territory.

Reports in the Brazilian media suggest that some of the judges are now inclined towards what they see as a compromise verdict, which would recognise Indigenous rights, but also take account of worries about the country's sovereignty as well.

(Published by BBC News - December 10, 2008)

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