Sat, Feb 19, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Brazil to establish environmental protection area after nun's murder

RESULTS The government has vowed to set up a protected Amazon area after a US nun who was gunned down amid a dispute with a rancher over logging


Brazil's president ordered the creation of a huge Amazon environmental protection area in a lawless region coveted by soy farmers and ranchers less than a week after a US nun was gunned down trying to protect the jungle from deforestation.

Decrees signed Thursday by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will form a reserve of 3.3 million hectares and a national park spanning 450,000 hectares in the state of Para, where 73-year-old Dorothy Stang was shot to death in a dispute with a powerful rancher.

"We can't give in to people committing acts of violence," said Environment Minister Marina Silva, who announced the decrees in the capital, Brasilia. "The government is putting the brakes on in front of the predators."

Stang, a naturalized Brazilian originally from Dayton, Ohio, was attacked Saturday in a settlement 50km from Anapu, which is located in Para. A witness said she read from a Bible after being confronted by two gunmen and was then shot six times at close range.

The decrees were announced after more than 60 groups signed a letter to the president demanding strong moves to curb ``violence and impunity associated with the illegal occupation of lands and deforestation'' in the Amazon -- and especially in vast Para state.

Unless the killing stops, Silva "will risk making history as the champion of rural violence, illegal occupation of public lands and illegal logging," said the letter, signed by the World Wide Fund for Nature, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and other groups.

Though environmentalists praised the decrees, they said they had lobbied Silva's administration for similar moves for two years and were dismayed they came only after Stang's death.

Logging companies and wealthy landowners intent on profiting from cattle and soy have steadily pushed deeper into the world's largest rain forest, which sprawls over 4.1 million square kilometers and covers more than half the country. Development, logging and farming have destroyed as much as 20 percent of the rain forest.

Police were searching for the two gunmen and for rancher Vitamiro Goncalves Moura, known as Bida, who authorities say ordered the killing.

Walame Fiado Machado, who is heading the federal police investigation, said he believed the two gunmen were likely hiding in a dense, hard-to-reach stretch of forest near Bida's ranch and that the rancher and an associate may have fled the region in a small plane soon after the murder.

As police searched for the suspects, residents continued to vent their anger over Stang's death. Farmers from the Boa Esperanca settlement, where Stang was killed, staged protests Thursday in Altamira, where most federal and state authorities have their regional headquarters.

The president also ordered a six-month moratorium on logging licenses on 8.2 million hectares of land in Para near a jungle road scheduled to be paved in an area that environmentalists say is already rife with deforestation and land conflicts.

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