By Carlos Garcia Rawlins
SIERRA DE PARIMA, Venezuela (Reuters) - Indigenous Yanomami villagers at the center of an investigation into a possible massacre deep in the Amazon jungle have told visiting journalists and government officials that no killings took place.
International indigenous rights group Survival International also retracted its initial version of the incident in which it had said only three people were known to have survived after illegal Brazilian gold miners in helicopters fired on the village of about 80 people.
"No one's killed anyone," the chief of the community in Sierra de Parima village, who identified himself as Massupi, told reporters through a translator in the remote native settlement.
"Here, we are all fine," he said, dressed in a red loincloth in front of a straw hut in the jungle.
One Yanomami group sounded the alarm at the end of August, saying hunters had discovered the massacre. News emerged slowly due to the remoteness of the region near the Brazilian border.
The government of President Hugo Chavez, which prides itself on attention to indigenous rights, promised to investigate and repeatedly said it had found no evidence of a mass killing.
Yet doubts persist.
"Having received its own testimony from confidential sources, Survival now believes there was no attack by miners on the Yanomami community of Irotatheri," Survival International said in a statement on Monday, referring to the name of the nomadic tribe of the Sierra de Parima area.
"We currently do not know whether or not these stories were sparked by a violent incident, which is the most likely explanation, but tension remains high in the area."
There is a history of violent clashes between natives, gold prospectors and developers in the area. In 1993, 16 Yanomami villagers were killed in Brazil during an attack by miners.
At the village, Massupi and other tribespeople looked surprised by the arrival of the army helicopter carrying media.
As the journalists landed, the indigenous people held spears as well as bows and arrows, smiling and showing off herbs stuffed between their teeth.
Government officials gave them clothes and food. The inhabitants spoke to journalists through a government-hired translator.
Rather than any evidence of violence, a Reuters photographer found villagers performing a dance, relaxing in hammocks and going about normal cooking and hunting activities.
(Writing by Girish Gupta in Caracas; editing by Christopher Wilson)