Paraguay: Murder charges for farmers after land clash

image captionPolice said they were caught by surprise by the violent resistance they encountered

Nine landless farmers in Paraguay have been charged with murder after six police officers died during clashes in eastern Canindeyu province.

The six officers were shot dead on Friday when they attempted to evict about 100 farming families from land they had invaded three weeks ago.

At least nine farmers were also killed in the clashes. Police had earlier put the number of officers killed at seven.

President Fernando Lugo has ordered the army to the area to restore calm.

Territorial disputes are not unusual in Paraguay, but the incident on Friday was the most violent for decades.

Police said one of the police officers hurt in the confrontation remained in a serious condition.

Relatives of the landless farmers said they had found two more bodies at the site of the clashes, bringing the number of dead civilians to 11, but there has not yet been official confirmation of the find.

Murder charges

Police said the nine suspects, one of them a 15-year-old boy, were all in custody. They said some of them were being treated for injuries sustained during the eviction attempt.

image captionLandless farmers had occupied the property in Canindeyu, 240km north-east of Asuncion weeks ago

They have been charged with murder, attempted murder and criminal association.

The confrontation started in the early hours of Friday, when police moved in on private land which had been occupied by more than 100 landless farmers.

According to police official Walter Gomez the officers were ambushed in a wooded area.

He said they had not been expecting violence and had wanted to negotiate a "peaceful eviction". Mr Gomez said his officers had been attacked "with high-calibre weapons".

Among those killed was the chief of the Police Special Operations Force, Erven Lovera.

Battle for land

Farmers' leader Jose Rodriguez told Paraguayan radio that those killed "were humble farmers, members of the landless movement, who'd decided to stay and resist".

The farmers said the land was illegally taken during the 1954-1989 military rule of Gen Alfredo Stroessner and distributed among his allies.

According to the Paraguayan Truth Commission, 6.75 million hectares of land were sold or handed over under "irregular circumstances" during military rule.

The Commission says that almost 20% of Paraguayan land can be qualified as "ill-gotten gains".

Interior Minster Carlos Filizzola and Chief of Police Paulino Rojas were replaced over the incident.

The new Interior Minister, Ruben Candia, said that the evictions would continue, and that they would be carried out "with the full backing of the law".

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