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Indigenous groups threaten to occupy Amazon dam site

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2010-04-22

Indigenous groups opposed to Brazil’s controversial Belo Monte dam project are set to occupy the construction site in the Amazon rainforest, said an Indian chief, amid growing opposition to what is to be the world’s third-largest dam.

AFP - Boats carrying 150 Native Americans have been dispatched to occupy the area where the Brazilian government wants to build a controversial hydro-electric dam, an indigenous chief said Wednesday.

Environmentalists, indigenous groups and local residents lost a protracted court battle to halt the bidding process for the giant Belo Monte dam, projected to be the world's third-largest.

Brazil awarded the tender Tuesday to Norte Energia, a consortium led by a subsidiary of state electricity company Electrobras.

"Boats are in the process of leaving and we hope to occupy the territory tomorrow. We will build a permanent village there and will not leave so long as the project is on," indigenous chief Luiz Xipaya told AFP.

"The indigenous people feel threatened by this project and are very agitated," said Xipaya, who presides over a council of indigenous elders.

Around 150 Brazilian Indians will initially set up camp at the dam site, but Xipaya warned that "we would like to number 500 by the end of the month and ask for reinforcements... Our goal is to place a thousand Indians there."

Greenpeace estimates that 500 square kilometers (193 square miles) of Amazon rainforest will be flooded and says the dam's construction will also divert a stretch of the Xingu River into an area home to up to 30,000 families.

The dam has some heavyweight opponents with "Avatar" director James Cameron and star Sigourney Weaver giving their backing and drawing parallels with the natives-versus-exploiters storyline of the blockbuster Hollywood movie.

The regional justice ministry in the state of Para tried to stall tenders for the 10-billion-dollar-plus Belo Monte project, calling the dam "an affront to environmental laws."

It said too many questions remained over how the massive project would affect flora and fauna in the region and what would become of the families who would have to be relocated.

The government, though, remained determined to push through with the dam, calling it essential to its plans to boost energy production in Brazil, Latin America's biggest economy, nearly three-fold over the next two decades.

For construction costs of 11.2 billion dollars, Belo Monte is expected to be able to produce 11,000 megawatts, which could supply 20 million homes with power.

The dam would be the third-biggest in the world after China's Three Gorges facility and Brazil's Itaipu dam in the south.

It has been defended by some locals who hope to benefit from the estimated 18,000 direct jobs and 80,000 indirect jobs that the government says the project will create.

Hydro-electric energy accounts for 73 percent of the energy produced by Brazil.

Date created : 2010-04-21

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