By Raymond Colitt
BRASILIA, April 15 (Reuters) - The dispute over land in Brazil has become less violent and killed fewer people than over the past six years as activists lose faith in government pledges, a Roman Catholic church watchdog said on Tuesday.
Under the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva violent protests and land invasions had risen sharply in expectation the former union leader would accelerate land transfers to the poor.
Landless peasants, Indians and descendants of runaway slaves repeatedly clashed with police and gunmen in struggles over land ownership.
But last year the number of violent land conflicts and related killings fell to the lowest level since before Lula took office in 2003, said a report by the Roman Catholic Church’s land rights group CPT.
There were 25 killings in 2007, down from 35 the year before and a high of 71 in 2003. The number of land conflicts fell to 1,027 last year, compared to 1,212 in 2006 and a high of 1,398. In 2002, CPT registered 743 conflicts.
Landless peasants have lost motivation because of the government’s long delay in delivering promised land.
"The people are frustrated with the speed of land reform.. They are tired of camping out for months, years," a CPT spokesman said.
Still, the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) this week invaded several private properties throughout the country, demanding more than 150,000 families camped along roads under black plastic sheets be given land.
The MST and other landless activists this year invaded multinational mining, paper and food companies in a protest against big farm business.
In northern Roraima state, police are awaiting a court order to remove farmers from an Indian reservation. The rice farmers have warned of potential bloodshed.
Brazil is a global agricultural powerhouse but also has one of the world’s greatest divides between rich and poor. (Reporting by Raymond Colitt, editing by Todd Eastham)