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Brazil promises backing for beleaguered indigenous people

© CIMI/AFP/File | Handout picture released by the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) showing police officers (L) talking to Gamela indigenous people after a farmers attack in Viana, Maranhao state, north of Brazil on May 1, 2017

BRASÍLIA (AFP) - 

Brazil's government brushed off criticism Wednesday that it is failing to protect vulnerable indigenous tribes in the wake of a bloody attack that left 13 people wounded.

The attack on Sunday in northeastern Maranhao state targeted members of the Gamela tribe and was believed to have been linked to land disputes.

Although Brazil's 900,000 indigenous people are meant to control about 12 percent of the country's territory, government failure to demarcate the exact boundaries has left them open to violent incursions from the farm industry.

Justice Minister Osmar Serraglio told reporters that Brazil's native peoples had not been forgotten.

"The government of President Michel Temer certainly wants to legalize the demarcation of the territories," he said.

"We will identify the reasons for why recognition of these lands has taken so long and is so complicated," said Serraglio, who has been strongly criticized for ties to the agribusiness lobby.

A Catholic-linked organization, the Indian Missionary Congress said that some 200 people linked to farm businesses had attacked the native people with machetes and firearms in Maranhao.

The head of the hospital where three people were still listed in serious condition told the G1 news site that no one had lost their hands, as originally reported.

One victim suffered "deep cuts on the forearm... (but) the hands were not severed," he was quoted as saying.

Despite government reassurances, the head of the state body for handling indigenous affairs, Funai, said Tuesday that the process for recognizing territories has been held up due to lack of money. Antonio Costa said that 44 percent of the budget had been lost in government austerity cuts.

© 2017 AFP