Brazil Amazon forest defender shot dead by illegal loggers

Paulo Paulino Guajajara, a member of the Guardians of the Forest group, died after being shot in the face.

    An indigenous forest defender has been killed and another wounded after they were ambushed by illegal loggers in Brazil's Amazon forest, according to authorities.

    Paulo Paulino Guajajara, a leader of an indigenous group seeking to protect the Arariboia indigenous reserve in Maranhao state from incursions, was shot in the face while on a hunting trip, leaders of the Guajajara tribe said on Saturday.

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    Federal police will investigate Paulino Guajajara's killing in order to "bring those responsible for this crime to justice", said Sergio Moro, the justice and public security minister.

    An indigenous leader in the area said the forest guards had previously received threats and wore protective vests while on patrol.

    "We informed federal agencies of the threats but they didn't take any action," Sonia Guajajara, leader of Brazil's pan-indigenous organisation APIB, said.

    A logger also died in the attack on Friday night in the northeastern state, according to FUNAI, a state agency that represents indigenous interests.

    'Increase in violence'

    It comes amid an increase in invasions of reservations by illegal loggers and miners since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro took office this year and promised to open up protected indigenous lands to economic development.

    "The Bolsonaro government has indigenous blood on its hands," APIB, which represents many of the country's 900,000 native people, said in a statement on Saturday.

    "The increase in violence in indigenous territories is a direct result of his hateful speeches and steps taken against our people," APIB said.

    Sonia Guajajara said the government was dismantling environmental and indigenous agencies, and leaving tribes to defend themselves from invasion of their lands.

    "It's time to say enough of this institutionalised genocide," she said in a post on Twitter.

    'I'm scared at times'

    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 the vast reservation.

    The area is so large that a small and endangered tribe, the Awa Guaja, lives deep in the forest without any contact with the outside world.

    In an interview with Reuters news agency in September, Paulino Guajajara had said protecting the forest from intruders had become a dangerous task, but his people could not give in to fear.

    "I'm scared at times, but we have to lift up our heads and act. We are here fighting," he had said at time.

    "We are protecting our land and the life on it, the animals, the birds, even the Awa who are here too," added Paulino Guajajara, who was in his twenties and leaves behind one son.

    "There is so much destruction of Nature happening, good trees with wood as hard as steel being cut down and taken away.

    "We have to preserve this life for our children's future." 

    SOURCE: News agencies