Ecumenical leaders decry deadly battle over land in Paraguay

In a land-locked country where 2 percent own 70 percent of the land, including Mennonite landowners.

June 22, 2012 | Web First
ENI news staff | Ecumenical News International
Asuncion, Paraguay

The leader of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) has condemned a deadly clash June 15 between army troops and farmers fighting eviction in Paraguay.

"No violence of any kind is justifiable in the eyes of God," Pastor Nilton Giese, secretary general of the council, said in a statement released the day of the clash. "Thus, we wish to offer our solidarity to the victims of that conflict and pray to God for their consolation, and ask the authorities to investigate what happened and apply justice," he wrote.

Ten farmers and seven soldiers were killed in a gun battle over control of a remote northern forest reserve as police tried to evict about 150 farmers from the area, 150 miles north of the capital, Asuncion, the Associated Press reported. Twenty-seven other officers were injured as police kept up the firefights in the forest.

The incident prompted President Fernando Lugo--a Catholic ex-bishop and friend to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez--to accept the resignations of his interior minister and his chief of police.

Giese said the confrontation is "a sad chapter in the history of the conflict over land rights in Canindevu."

The roughly 2,000-hectare farm where the violence took place is owned by a local businessman who complained that a group of about 100 families had invaded his property about three weeks ago, Al Jazeera reported.

Groups supporting the farmers contend the land was distributed during the 35-year dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner, when allies of his regime were rewarded with vast tracts of prime farmland in the landlocked nation of six million people.

After his election, Lugo's pledged to redistribute land but the effort has stalled as the state has struggled to reach agreement between peasant farmers demanding specific tracts and their landholders.  Some 70 percent of the land is owned by only 2 percent of the population, including Mennonites in the Chaco.

The Paraguayan ecumenical body Committee of Churches for Emergency Assistance said in a statement, "Our hope continues in our almighty God. With faith we trust that our Paraguay will have its peace restored, along with its security and concord, and that situations of this kind that bring mourning to the families of the young patriots never occur again."

--June 22, 2012

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