Federal police have launched a major operation to remove settlers and loggers from a remote area of the Amazon that experts believe is home to one of the world's most isolated Indian tribes, officials said Wednesday.
Police have arrested 27 people accused of illegal land appropriation and possible genocide in a 120-officer operation in Mato Grosso state, about 2,200 kilometers (1,400 miles) northwest of Rio de Janeiro.
"We perceived that this group of Indians was being systematically persecuted. We found settlements that had been hastily abandoned, with the Indians leaving their belongings behind," Armando Soares Filho, of the Federal Indian Bureau's Department of Isolated Indians, said in a telephone interview from Brasilia, the nation's capital.
Government anthropologists first detected traces of the tribe in 1998. In 2001, the bureau issued a decree banning outsiders from about 166,000 hectares(410,000 acres) of rainforest, to allow anthropologists to contact the tribe and demarcate a reservation.
The tribe doesn't have a name, although it has been referred to as the Rio Pardo tribe, after a nearby river. Little is known about the group, except that they likely are hunter-gatherers and have up to 15 members.
This week, the Globo TV network showed the first images of the tribe filmed by anthropologists, which showed an Indian cutting a tree trunk in the company of two women.
Soares said the contact proved the Indians exist, but not much else. Anthropologists still don't know what language the Indians speak or if they are related to other tribes.
The bureau also discovered Brazilians trying to chase the Indians away, and destroy signs of their presence, in order to keep the area from being declared a reservation.
"We found a group of men in the area with global positioning systems, chainsaws, ammunition and two bombs. They were clearly trying to chase the Indians out or exterminate them," said Soares.
He said they also found evidence linking the settlers to local politicians, ranchers and loggers. Based on that, public prosecutors have issued more than 70 arrest warrants and are investigating whether Indians were killed by the group.
The Indian rights group Survival International praised the government's efforts Wednesday.
"The total destruction of a tribe, however small, is genocide. The land of the Rio Pardo Indians must be recognized and protected now, or their annihilation will be complete," director Stephen Corry, said in a press release.
About 700,000 Indians live in Brazil, mostly in the Amazon region. About 400,000 live on reservations and try to maintain their culture, language and lifestyle, AP reported. V.A.