SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Two men who were members of Brazil’s landless activist group MST were killed late on Saturday in a rural area in the northeast state of Paraíba, according to MST and local police.
The killings happened on a farm where activists of the left-wing MST group put up a camp last year. MST said in a statement that heavily armed men entered the camp late on Saturday and shot the two men dead.
Police at the Alhandra municipality confirmed the deaths, but said it still lack details of what it called homicides. It said two police deputies from the state’s capital João Pessoa were sent by the government to help investigate the shooting and were at the farm on Sunday talking to witnesses.
No suspects had been identified or arrested, the police said, and the bodies of the activists were still at the farm. They would be transferred to the city later for the autopsies.
MST said the men killed were José Bernardo da Silva and Rodrigo Celestino. MST activists fight for land distribution in Brazil, many times invading areas it says are not producing anything and then seeking its expropriation by the government.
The group demanded a quick investigation of the crime and the arrest of the killers.
Killings related to land disputes in Brazil reached 70 last year, according to Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT), a group linked to the Catholic church. It said in a report in April that it was the highest amount of such deaths since 2003, when 73 people were killed in land conflicts.
Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro strongly opposes the actions by MST, saying they should be considered as terrorism. Groups such as the MST fear that his stance regarding the issue could stimulate even larger violence in Brazilian rural areas.
Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Lisa Shumaker