Brazil plans federal probe of nun's killing

American had opposed illegal ranching, logging in the Amazon jungle

February 14, 2005|By Henry Chu | Henry Chu,LOS ANGELES TIMES

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Amid outrage over mounting lawlessness in the Amazon, Brazil's government promised a high-level investigation yesterday into the killing of an American nun who spent years opposing illegal ranching and logging in the jungle.

Justice officials are expected to declare the slaying of Sister Dorothy Stang a federal case, and lawmakers are planning to create a parliamentary commission to monitor the investigation into Saturday's ambush of Stang and her colleagues outside Anapu, a small city in the rugged northern state of Para.

Environment Minister Marina Silva said President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had called an emergency Cabinet meeting for tomorrow to discuss the killing and the recent escalation of violent standoffs between competing interests in the region.

Stang, 74, was shot several times while en route to a meeting with poor farmers, whom the Ohio native had championed for two decades in their struggle against ranchers and loggers intent on claiming vast tracts of rain forest.

Despite reports that two people had been arrested, authorities said yesterday that they had only identified two hit men as suspects and a third person who allegedly helped hire them. None was in custody.

Human-rights groups and environmentalists condemned the attack as the latest, most serious sign of growing anarchy in Para, which covers nearly a half-million square miles, much of it thick jungle.

Some large landholders in the area have formed private militias to guard their interests, while peasant farmers who oppose them also have taken up arms. Land disputes ending in death are not uncommon. Widespread corruption, influence peddling and lack of funding for police have combined to make the rule of law little more than theoretical in many parts of the state.

Late last month, loggers blocked highways and some stretches of river and threatened to shut down ports if officials did not satisfy their demands for deforestation rights. In response, the government agreed to temporarily reinstate logging permits, a move that incensed environmental advocates.

A longtime missionary who moved to the Amazon 22 years ago, Stang had received both accolades and death threats for her work among the poor and landless.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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