October 22, 2007 / 6:49 PM / 11 years ago

UPDATE 1-Two killed in Brazil landless peasants' protest

(Adds MST statement in paragraphs 6-7)

By Andrei Khalip

RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Two people were killed during weekend clashes after landless peasants in Brazil occupied the farm of a multinational agrochemical company in the latest of several such protests over the past week.

Police said on Monday a peasant leader and a guard were killed at the Swiss-owned Syngenta Seeds farm in the southern state of Parana after it was occupied by 200 landless militants on Sunday. Six protesters and three security guards were also wounded during the clashes, police said.

The Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) and allied movement Via Campesina invaded the farm to protest its use of genetically modified seeds. Switzerland-based Syngenta SYNN.VX is the world’s largest agrochemical company.

The MST and similar groups frequently occupy farms, block highways, torch crops, and stage rallies to pressure the government to give more land to the poor. Landowners often hire armed guards and hit squads to repel invasions.

Local police commander Maj. Celso Borges told Reuters that a few hours after the invasion on Sunday, some of the guards “returned, armed, to retake the farm.” He said he did not know who started shooting first.

Valmir Motta, one of the regional MST leaders, was killed with two gunshots in the chest. The MST described the killing as an “execution” and demanded a full investigation.

The MST accused Syngenta of hiring security services that were used to form armed militias to evict and attack landless settlers.

In a statement, Syngenta denied claims by the MST it had ordered the use of force, adding that its guards work unarmed by contract. The same farm was occupied for weeks last year.

The protesters were still occupying the farm on Monday, but the situation was calm and police were patrolling the area, Borges said.

“We have no information on them being armed now, although the shootout indicates they had guns,” he said.

On Thursday, police dispersed a large group of landless peasants that had blocked the tracks of a major railroad operated by Brazilian mining giant CVRD VALE5.SA(RIO.N) and thrown stones at a passing train.

The protest, which was part of a broader campaign by the radical leftist group “in defense of agrarian reform and against imperialism,” disrupted iron ore shipments and briefly left CVRD’s pellet plant in Maranhao without raw materials.

On Tuesday, landless militants briefly invaded tree plantations of Votorantim VCP.NVCPA4.SA and Stora Enso (STERV.HE) paper companies, destroying saplings as part of a protest against multinational agricultural companies.

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