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Brazilian state creates force to protect Amazon tribe from loggers

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BRASILIA (Reuters) – The government of the Brazilian state of Maranhao plans to set up a police task force on Monday to protect the Guajajara tribe from illegal loggers that killed one of its warriors in a clash over deforestation on their Amazon reservation.

Illegal loggers ambushed an indigenous group that was formed to protect the forest and shot dead one of its leaders and wounded another on Friday, the tribe said. It said a logger also died in the shootout.

Paulo Paulino Guajajara, or Lobo (which means ‘wolf’ in Portuguese), was hunting inside the Arariboia reservation when loggers opened fire and shot him in the neck. Another Guajajara, Laercio, was wounded in the arm and back but managed to escape.

Law enforcement on indigenous reservations is a federal responsibility, but the Guajajara “guardians of the forest” have taken on the task in the absence of federal protection and in the face of increased invasions by armed loggers since right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January.

Maranhao Governor Flavio Dino said his state would send a task force of policemen to protect the Guajajaras and train them in security practices, though not weapon instruction.

“Given the difficulty federal agencies are having in protecting indigenous lands, we will try to help them and the indigenous guardians of the forest,” Dino tweeted on Saturday.

His decree was being prepared for publication on Monday afternoon, a spokeswoman said.

Federal Justice Minister Sergio Moro deplored the killing and vowed a thorough investigation in a Twitter post. Federal police were sent to determined the circumstances of the deaths.

“Maranhao state understood how the urgency of the situation in view of the federal government’s failure to act, almost in

connivance with the attackers by encouraging the invasion of reservations,” said national indigenous leader Sonia Guajajara.

Guajara, head of the pan-indigenous organization APIB, which represents many of Brazil’s 900,000 native people, spoke to Reuters from Europe where she is meeting authorities to explain growing threats to Brazil’s tribes and the forests they inhabit.

The Guajajaras, one of Brazil’s largest indigenous groups with some 20,000 people, set up the Guardians of the Forest in 2012 to patrol a vast reservation. The area is so large that a small and endangered tribe, the Awá Guajá, lives deep in the forest without any contact with the outside world.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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