Brazil's Indian affairs chief resigns amid land tensions

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 07, 2013 8:42 PM
Brazil's Indian affairs chief resigns amid land tensions

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The head of Brazil's Indian affairs agency, Funai, has resigned due to health problems, it said on Friday, a decision that also comes amid escalating land conflicts between farmers and Indian tribes that led to the shooting an indigenous man last week.

Marta Maria do Amaral Azevedo's departure, after little more than a year at the government agency created to protect Indian tribes, comes after the government limited Funai's power to return land to tribes that it deems traditionally indigenous.

Funai's actions have come under heavy criticism in recent months after a series of land restitutions to Indians including a large area in the grain-farming belt from which Xavante Indians were evicted in the 1960s.

The government introduced new rules last month bringing other entities including the agriculture ministry into the process of deciding whether land areas were long-occupied by indigenous tribes and to be returned, sidelining Funai which previously had sole responsibility for the task.

The government sent 110 federal troops on Tuesday to a disputed property that Indians are occupying in Sidrolandia in Mato Grosso do Sul, to prevent more violence after an Indian was shot dead in chaos that erupted when they were ordered to leave.

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Instead of a forced eviction, President Dilma Rousseff said the government would seek a resolution through negotiation. Indians have also repeatedly occupied the construction sites of hydroelectric dams they say will uproot them from their homes.

Funai said in a statement that Azevedo needed to undergo medical treatment incompatible with her schedule as head of the entity. It said its sustainable development director, Maria Augusta Assirati, was appointed interim president.

(Reporting by Maria Carolina Marcello and Peter Murphy; Writing by Peter Murphy; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)