Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Brazil's army to search for lost tribe feared attacked by drug traffickers

August 16, 2011
Source: Herald Sun

BRAZIL has said it would send troops to an Amazon border area to search for an isolated group of Indians who vanished after a clash with suspected drug traffickers.

Officials from Brazil's National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) have been searching for signs of the natives following an attack in late July on the remote Xinane guard post tasked with protecting the tribesmen near the Brazil-Peru border.

Brazil has dispatched troops to search for the missing Amazonian Indians, amid concern that they might have been massacred by suspected traffickers operating across the nearby border.

Tribal groups in the region, many of which had never before had contact with white people, made headlines in January after being filmed for the first time by FUNAI officials.

Over the weekend authorities stepped up their efforts to determine what might have happened to them.

"Eight elite police officers arrived Saturday and will remain until army troops arrive," said Carlos Travassos, head of the Indian Affairs authority in the Brazilian border region of Acre.

After Acre was attacked at the end of July, the natives who inhabited the area seemed to have disappeared.

Officials said that nearly one week of searching so far has yielded no sign of the Indians.

"We have conducted surveillance flights but found no one," Mr Travassos said.

"We don't know if the people who attacked and ransacked the post were drug traffickers or Peruvian paramilitaries," he added.

"It's an organised group, not one from the region, with large caliber weapons. These are not fishermen or poachers," another regional official said.

The part of the Amazon which borders Peru is home to the largest number of isolated Indians on the planet, according to officials, who said there are some 33 separate native groups who inhabit the area.

In January, Brazil allowed the release of rare photographs of the natives -- astonishing images taken by FUNAI showing adults and children peering skyward with their faces dyed reddish-orange and toting bows, arrows and spears.

FUNAI says there are dozens of tribes in Brazil that do not have sustained contact with the outside world. Some are often referred to as "uncontacted" tribes.

The Brazilian government prohibits unmonitored outside contact with these groups, as outsiders could be infected with potentially fatal illnesses to which the natives have never been exposed.

In March, Brazilian police arrested a Portuguese trafficker believed to be the leader of the armed group that attacked the Xinane outpost and extradited him to Peru, FUNAI said.

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