Brazil to deploy special force to protect the Yanomami from wildcat gold miners

FILE PHOTO: Indigenous prople from Yanomami ethnic group are seen, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the 4th Surucucu Special Frontier Platoon of the Brazilian army in the municipality of Alto Alegre, state of Roraima, Brazil July 1, 2020. REUTERS/Adriano Machado/File Photo

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The Brazilian government on Monday authorized the employment of the National Security Force (FNS) to protect the Yanomami indigenous people and their reservation lands for 90 days in the northern state of Roraima bordering Venezuela.

The measure by the Justice Ministry published in the official gazette follows increasing attacks with firearms by illegal wildcat gold miners who have invaded Yanomami lands on Brazil's largest reservation.

More than 20,000 miners are illegally prospecting on the reservation and polluting rivers with mercury used to separate gold from ore.

Since the beginning of the year, there have been at least eight attacks by miners on Yanomami communities.

Last month, men on a speed boat shot at a village with an automatic weapon. Community leaders said the attack was aimed at intimidating the Yanomami who have tried to block miners coming up the rivers.

Supreme Court Justice Luis Roberto Barroso in May ordered the government of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro to take immediate steps to protect the Yanomami, but little had been done so far.

The Yanomami are one of Brazil's most isolated people. An estimated 26,700 live on a reservation larger than Portugal that has been protected by law since 1992, extending from the Amazon jungle to the savannah region of Roraima.

Bolsonaro has criticized Brazil's 850,000 indigenous people for holding too much land protected against poachers and loggers. He favors allowing commercial agriculture and mining on indigenous land. Congress is considering legislation to allow that to happen.

The FNS is a special federal force made up of members of the military police seconded by Brazil's states and called on to provided security in exceptional cases.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu, Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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