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Indigenous groups sent to occupy Amazon dam site: Chief

Last Updated: Thursday, April 22, 2010 - 14:19

Brasilia: Indigenous activists threatened a clash with Brazil`s government as they dispatched boats carrying 150 men to occupy the planned site of a controversial hydro-electric dam in the Amazon, a chief said.

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 on Tuesday to Norte Energia, a consortium led by a subsidiary of state electricity company Electrobras, which will hold a 49.98-percent stake in the project.

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

"The indigenous people feel threatened by this project and are very agitated," said Xipaya, who presides over a council of 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 1,000 Indians there."

Greenpeace estimates that 500 square kilometres (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 that is home to up to 30,000 families.

The activist group led a demonstration Tuesday outside the gates of electric energy agency Aneel in Brasilia to protest the award of the tender, while the Amazon Watch organization said thousands of people demonstrated in nine Brazilian cities against the plans.

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.

Bureau Report

First Published: Thursday, April 22, 2010 - 14:19
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