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DATE=8/16/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=BRAZIL TRIAL (L ONLY) NUMBER=2-252850 BYLINE=BILL RODGERS DATELINE=RIO DE JANEIRO INTERNET=YES CONTENT= VOICED AT: ///Eds: Portuguese Act in Bubble with Voice Feed/// INTRO: The trial of 150 policemen accused of gunning down 19 demonstrators in Brazil three years ago has opened in the northern city of Belem. As VOA's Bill Rodgers reports from Rio de Janeiro, the 1996 incident was one of the worst massacres of landless peasants in recent years. TEXT: Three police officers went on trial Monday -- a colonel, a major and a captain -- as the first of a group of 150 policemen charged with the shooting deaths of 19 peasant demonstrators on April 17th, 1996. The three, who are being tried at a university auditorium in the northern city of Belem, Monday listened to the charges read against them in court. They are pleading not guilty -- but if convicted, they face up to 30 years in prison. The incident took place when police fired into a crowd of some two-thousand peasant farmers demanding agrarian reform. The protesters were blocking a highway in the community of Eldorado do Carajas, in the state of Para -- some two thousand kilometers north of Rio de Janeiro. Police claim they fired their guns in self-defense. But eyewitness reports and television images indicate the police lost control and fired automatic weapons against peasants wielding sticks and machetes. The massacre -- which made international headlines -- was one of the worst outbreaks of violence in recent years in the ongoing protests by peasants demanding land. Officials of the militant group, Movement of Those Without Land (Eds: Movimento Sem Terra), or M-S-T, are closely monitoring the trial. Speaking to reporters in Rio de Janeiro Monday, M-S-T education head Edgar Coling said Brazil has a lot at stake in the outcome of the trial. ///COLING PORTUGUESE ACT WITH TRANSLATION/// If nobody gets punished, Brazil has a lot to lose. That is our understanding. We don't want to discuss whether it will be two, three or four convictions. Let's wait for the verdicts. What's at stake here is the ethics and justice of this country -- the role of the state, the role of social movements, the military and so forth. The landless movement is not being judged here -- what's being judged is the dignity of our country. The whole world is watching us now. /// END ACT /// The April 1996 massacre marked a turning point in government policy -- prompting Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso to accelerate agrarian reform. It is estimated that 46 percent of the arable land in Brazil is owned by just one percent of the population, while five million rural families have no land at all. (Signed) NEB/WFR/KL 16-Aug-1999 19:05 PM EDT (16-Aug-1999 2305 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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