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Killing of Brazilian Tribe Members Under Investigation

A group of gold miners is under investigation in Brazil for allegedly killing members of an uncontacted tribe in the Amazon. 

About 10 members of the tribe are believed to have been killed, reports The New York Times. Funai, the Brazilian agency on indigenous affairs, has lodged a complaint with the prosecutor's office in the state of Amazonas, and federal Brazilian prosecutors are investigating. 

Leila Silvia Burger Sotto-Maior, the agency's coordinator for uncontacted and recently contacted tribes, said the alleged killings are believed to have taken place in August. The killings came to the attention of Brazilian officials after the gold miners were heard bragging about the killings in a bar near the Colombian border.

"It was crude bar talk," said Sotto-Maior. "They even bragged about cutting up the bodies and throwing them in the river." 

Pablo Luz de Beltrand, the prosecutor in charge of the case, said an investigation is underway and that the killings allegedly took place in the Javari Valley in western Brazil. 

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"We are following up, but the territories are big and access is limited," he said. "These tribes are uncontacted -- even Funai has only sporadic information about them. So it’s difficult work that requires all government departments working together."

Beltrand also said he could not talk about the details of an ongoing case.

Funding for Sotto's department has reportedly been reduced under Brazilian President Michel Temer. For example, the department's budget for 2017 is down to $650,000 from its 2014 budget of $2.4 million. In April, the agency as a whole had to close five of the 19 bases that protect isolated tribes. 

"We had problems with previous governments, but not like this," said Sotto-Maior. 

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Jonathan Mazower, the media director for Survival International, a nongovernmental organization based in London, said the incident could have been the result of such cuts. 

"It's something that Survival and other organizations have been warning about for quite a long time," he said as part of an interview with CBC Radio. "Because the government in Brazil has been really cutting the budgets of the Indigenous Affairs Agency and especially the government teams who are supposed to protect the territories of uncontacted tribes in the Amazon."

Survival International has also warned that the incident could have resulted in the death of a significant percentage of the tribe, according to The New York Times. 

“If the investigation confirms the reports, it will be yet another genocidal massacre resulting directly from the Brazilian government’s failure to protect isolated tribes -- something that is guaranteed in the constitution,” said Sarah Shenker, Survival International's senior campaign manager.

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