SAO PAULO (Reuters) - A Brazilian state court issued arrest warrants against two former military police officers involved in the killing of 19 landless peasants in 1996, in a case that human rights activists claim is emblematic of the nation's culture of impunity.
The decision by the Justice Tribunal of the state of Pará on Monday comes after both officers, former Colonel Mario Colares Pantoja and former Major José Maria Pereira de Oliveira, were sentenced to prison terms of 258 years and 158 years, respectively.
Pantoja turned himself in to the police earlier in the day, a spokeswoman for Para's security secretariat said in a phone interview. Both Pantoja and Oliveira did not serve any jail time during the appeal process.
Justice Edmar Pereira said in a statement that the decision followed "the exhaustion of any legal ways" allowing the defendants to remain free during the process. The decision to issue the warrants cannot be appealed.
Pará, home to the world's largest iron ore mine, has for decades been the center of land-related disputes between landlords and peasants. More than 800 social leaders have been assassinated in the region over the past decade, indicating the high degree of impunity in Brazil, according to Brazil-based human rights group Comissão Pastoral da Terra.
On April 17, 1996, police began clearing landless protesters from the PA-150 highway at the northern town of Eldorado dos Carajás in Pará. Nineteen people were killed, with many shot at close range, according to prosecutors in the case.
The case is widely known in the country as the "Eldorado de Carajás massacre."
About 17 high-ranked officers and more than 120 policemen were absolved since the case was open in 1997. Amnesty International and a number of human rights organizations complained for years of weak investigation efforts and almost inexistent protection to witnesses.
Reporting by Eduardo Simões and Guillermo Parra-Bernal; Editing by Philip Barbara