Reported murder of 'uncontacted' tribe exposes mining threats in Brazil's Amazon

RIO DE JANEIRO, Sept 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Endangered indigenous tribes are increasingly facing threats from miners in the Amazon rainforest amid budget cuts to the Brazilian government agency responsible for protecting them, local officials and activists say.

A federal prosecutor in Brazil's Amazonas state has launched an investigation into a reported massacre of at least 10 members of an "uncontacted" tribe by gold miners in a remote area along the Jandiatuba river, close to Peru's border.

A unit of the indigenous affairs agency, Funai, was recently closed, leaving indigenous lands exposed to invaders, activists say.

"There is an ongoing inquiry into the case but I cannot speak about its content in order to not prejudice the investigation," federal prosecutor Pablo Beltrand told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

If confirmed, the massacre would be one of the worst such tragedies since the murder of 16 Yanomami indigenous people in 1993.

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Uncontacted tribe in Amazon
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Uncontacted tribe in Amazon
Members of the Mashco-Piro tribe observe a group of travelers from across the Alto Madre de Dios river in the Manu National Park in the Amazon basin of southeastern Peru, as photographed through a bird scope October 21, 2011. Survival International has the Mashco-Piro tribe listed as one of around 100 uncontacted indigenous tribes in the world. Picture taken October 21, 2011. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Van Belle (PERU - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY)
Three members of a previously uncontacted tribe make voluntary contact with a team of researchers (R, edge of photo) from Brazil's National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) on the bank of the Envira river in Aldeia Simpatia, Acre state, in this June 30, 2014 handout photo provided by FUNAI. FUNAI said on their website that members of the Amazon tribe considered uncontacted made contact with their group that was working together with Ashaninka Indians in the region. Picture taken June 30, 2014. REUTERS/FUNAI/Handout via Reuters (BRAZIL - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. DATE STAMP IN PICTURE FROM SOURCE
Three members of a previously uncontacted tribe make voluntary contact with a team of researchers (unseen) from Brazil's National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) on the bank of the Envira river in Aldeia Simpatia, Acre state, in this June 30, 2014 handout photo provided by FUNAI. FUNAI said on their website that members of the Amazon tribe considered uncontacted made contact with their group that was working together with Ashaninka Indians in the region. Picture taken June 30, 2014. REUTERS/FUNAI/Handout via Reuters (BRAZIL - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. DATE STAMP IN PICTURE FROM SOURCE
Three members of a previously uncontacted tribe make voluntary contact with a team of researchers (unseen) from Brazil's National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) on the bank of the Envira river in Aldeia Simpatia, Acre state, in this June 30, 2014 handout photo provided by FUNAI. FUNAI said on their website that members of the Amazon tribe considered uncontacted made contact with their group that was working together with Ashaninka Indians in the region. Picture taken June 30, 2014. REUTERS/FUNAI/Handout via Reuters (BRAZIL - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. DATE STAMP IN PICTURE FROM SOURCE
The Xinane river runs through Ashaninka Indian territory in Brazil's northwestern Acre state, March 25, 2014. Many indigenous groups, including the Huni Kui, Ashaninka, and Madija, live in villages in the Brazilian rainforest near the border with Peru. Over the past three years, the Ashaninka and Madija say that they have seen more and more incursions on their territory from uncontacted tribes, defined by Survival International as groups who have no peaceful contact with mainstream society. The "Bravos," or "Braves," as uncontacted Indians are called in the region, carry out raids on other villages, putting the communities along the Envira River on permanent alert. Leaders of the Ashaninka tribe have asked the government and NGOs for help in controlling what they consider an encroachment on their area by these uncontacted indigenous groups, stating that the movement of these other tribes is the result of pressure caused by illegal logging across the border in Peru. Picture taken March 25, 2014. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho (BRAZIL - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY CIVIL UNREST) ATTENTION EDITORS: PICTURE 37 OF 37 FOR PACKAGE 'STRUGGLES FOR SURVIVAL IN THE AMAZON' TO FIND ALL IMAGES SEARCH 'ASHANINKA'
Members of an uncontacted Amazon Basin tribe and their dwellings are seen during a flight over the Brazilian state of Acre along the border with Peru in this May 2008 photo distributed by Survival International. Survival International estimates that there are over 100 uncontacted tribes worldwide, and says that uncontacted tribes in the region are under increasing threat from illegal logging over the border in Peru. REUTERS/Funai-Frente de Protecao Etno-Ambiental Envira/Handout (BRAZIL). FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Indians who are considered uncontacted by anthropologists react to a plane flying over their community in the Amazon basin near the Xinane river in Brazil's Acre State, near the border with Peru, March 25, 2014. Leaders of the Ashaninka tribe, which shares territory with this tribe and other uncontacted ones, have asked the government and NGOs for help in controlling what they consider the encroachment of these tribes on their own area, stating that the movement of other tribes is caused by pressure from illegal logging across the border in Peru. Picture taken March 25, 2014. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho (BRAZIL - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) ATTENTION EDITORS: PICTURE 01 OF 07 OF A SERIES OF EXCLUSIVE PICTURES OF A TRIBE IN THE AMAZON BASIN WHO IS CONSIDERED TO BE UNCONTACTED BY ANTHROPOLOGISTS. TO FIND ALL IMAGES SEARCH "AMAZON TRIBE"
Members of an uncontacted Amazon Basin tribe and their dwellings are seen during a flight over the Brazilian state of Acre along the border with Peru in this May, 2008 photo distributed by Survival International. Survival International estimates that there are over 100 uncontacted tribes worldwide, and says that uncontacted tribes in the region are under increasing threat from illegal logging over the border in Peru. REUTERS/Funai-Frente de Protecao Etno-Ambiental Envira/Handout (BRAZIL). FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Members of an uncontacted Amazon Basin tribe and their dwellings are seen during a flight over the Brazilian state of Acre along the border with Peru in this May 2008 photo distributed by Survival International. Survival International estimates that there are over 100 uncontacted tribes worldwide, and says that uncontacted tribes in the region are under increasing threat from illegal logging over the border in Peru. REUTERS/Funai-Frente de Protecao Etno-Ambiental Envira/Handout (BRAZIL). FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
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Funai officials in Amazonas received an audio clip with miners bragging about the crime, said Gustavo Souza, acting coordinator of Funai's ethno-environmental protection front at Vale do Javari, where the murders allegedly took place.

Souza said he heard miners in the recording saying there were women and children on the river bank and they shot them.

"In the audio, one of the miners said 'you know, I do not mistake a shot'," Souza told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. He also saw a picture of a hand-crafted paddle that reportedly belonged to the indigenous tribe.

The number of invasions in indigenous lands in Vale do Javari has been increasing amid budget cuts - part of austerity measures aimed at lifting Brazil out of its worst recession in decades.

"With budget cuts this year, there was a reduction of Funai's team in the area by half," Souza said.

Although Vale do Javari is one of the largest indigenous reserves in the country, it is patrolled by just 10 Funai officials.

The officials attempt to monitor an area of 85,000 sq km, home to largest number of uncontacted indigenous worldwide.

"Indigenous lands are at risk amid increasing invasions and we're afraid that it'll get worse from now on," Souza said.

Carla de Lello Lorenzi, spokeswoman at indigenous rights group Survival International, said the cuts put indigenous lives at risk.

"These tribes are completely vulnerable. If miners and loggers get into their land, they are very vulnerable to violence and diseases," Lorenzi said.

(Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.)

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