A Catholic priest and lawyer has been targeted by Brazilian death squads because of his work on land reform. Fr Henri des Roziers, who works for the Pastoral Land Reform Commission in Xinguara in the northern state of Para, has received a number of death threats. Aid agency CAFOD, working with the Commission, said hitmen financed by local powers opposed to land reform are active in the area where Fr Henri lives. They are calling on the Brazilian government to stop the escalation of violence and put the killers on trial. CAFOD Latin American programme officer Jan Smith said: "Highly organised death squads operate in the region, employed by powerful landowners who act with complete impunity. Despite hundreds of murders of religious workers, leaders of farmers' organisations and trade unions, and landless peasants, only four gunmen have ever been tried and sentenced. No landowner has ever been brought to trial." The situation is highly charged in Kinguara after the murder of five people between 4-6 May this year. CAFOD believes they were killed in connection with land disputes. Two of the victims were found with their ears cut off - a trademark of contract killers. Jan said: "During my recent visit, I met relatives of the slain trade unionist and other victims of violence and I was completely overwhelmed by their enormous courage in challenging injustice in such a dangerous place. I could feel the menace and the brooding violence in Xinguara." The state of Para is notorious for its unequal land distribution and rural violence. Over the past two decades, nearly 700 rural labourers have been killed. CAFOD works with local partners promoting land reform in Brazil, a country with one of the worst gaps between rich and poor in the world.
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