April 24, 2017
(AFP) - Nine men, including an Evangelical pastor, massacred in a remote part of western Brazil were knifed and shot to death, police said Sunday after releasing the bodies for burial.
No arrests were announced in the slayings which took place Thursday in a hard-to-access settlement in Mato Grosso state. A human rights group said the killings were part of a pattern of brutal pressure from rich landowners to displace small-scale farmers from lucrative territories.
The state's security service said in a statement Sunday that the victims, all men, ranged in age from 23 to 57.
They were reported to be inhabitants of Gleba Taquarucu do Norte, which is near the border with Bolivia and only reachable on foot or by boat, with no cellphone coverage. One was a pastor from the popular Assembly of God church, police said.
"Preliminary information is that the victims showed signs of stabbings and gunshots," the police statement said.
CBN radio and other Brazilian media reported that some of the dead had been found decapitated, while Globo news site said there were signs of torture and that some victims had been tied up. Contacted by AFP, a police spokeswoman would not confirm or deny this.
Earlier, police described the raid as the work of "hooded attackers." Globo reported that the victims had been starting to work on unauthorized plots of land and that they were killed inside the huts they'd erected at the site.
The Pastoral Land Commission, which is linked to the Roman Catholic church, and acts on behalf of the rural poor, described a network of armed gangs employed by ranchers using "terror to get the small producers to leave the area."
"Gleba has been subjected to conflicts and violence for more than 10 years. Other murders and attacks have already taken place there," the commission said.
According to the CPT's latest annual report, 61 people were killed in land conflicts in Brazil last year, the highest number since 2003.