TITLE=BRAZIL TRIAL (L ONLY)
DATELINE=RIO DE JANEIRO
///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
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,
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)
16-Aug-1999 19:05 PM EDT (16-Aug-1999 2305 UTC)
Source: Voice of America
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