Thursday, September 3, 2009
American Nun Shot Dead In Amazon
A 74-year-old American nun was shot to death early on Saturday in Brazil's Amazon jungle, where she worked for decades to defend peasant farmers and the rain forest from illegal loggers and ranchers.
Two gunmen approached US missionary Dorothy Stang and shot her three times in the back at a settlement of landless peasants, 50 km from the town of Anapu in the state of Para, police and fellow religious workers said.
"She had no fear; this was her life, her fight," Ze Geraldo, a ruling Workers Party (PT) federal deputy, told Reuters by telephone after helping bring her body back to Anapu, where he said she would be buried, after an autopsy.
Having shot her in the back, a gunman fired a fourth shot to her head when she fell to the ground, then fled into the jungle, according to Mr Geraldo.
President Luiz Inacio Lula dispatched ministers and police teams to carry out a "rigorous" investigation.
"Two hired gunmen have now been identified and there are other people involved," Human Rights Minister Nilmario Miranda said in an interview on national television. He used the word "pistoleiro," used in Brazil to describe a contract killer.
Ms Stang's fellow missionaries had long feared such news.
"Sister Dorothy", as she was known, was originally from Ohio. She worked with peasant families to prevent them from fleeing illegal loggers and ranchers in the Trans-Amazonian highway region, some 700 km south-west of state capital of Belem.
She negotiated with hired gunmen to prevent attacks on settlements, frequently reported human rights abuses and taught locals how to use the forest in a sustainable way.
Brazil's government compared Stang's killing to that of legendary Amazon environmental activist Chico Mendes, who was gunned down in 1988 and became a martyr in the fight to protect the world's largest rain forest and its people.
Stang, who had lived in Brazil for more than three decades, recently won a human rights award from a Brazilian lawyers group. The state of Para named her woman of the year.