Six farmers have been shot dead by a criminal gang who wanted to seize their farms, Indigenous leaders in Peru said.
Local leaders in the central Amazon region of Ucayali said the victims were targeted because they had refused to give up their land to the gang.
According to a police report seen by The Guardian, the farmer’s bodies were found early on Saturday dumped in a stream near the Bajo Rayal hamlet where the men had lived.
Most of the men had shotgun wounds to the neck and at least one was discovered bound by their hands and feet, the police report said.
An eyewitness told police the victims were attacked by up to 40 armed men who had their faces covered.
“We have received death threats from the same land trafficking gang,” Robert Guimaraes, president of the local Indigenous federation Feconau, told The Guardian by phone. “We are afraid for our families and we are asking the state for protection.”
“These peasant farmers have paid the price for the inaction of the state and the local authorities in tackling land trafficking,” he added.
Guimaraes accused the local agricultural authority of handing out falsified land titles and said it also bore “direct responsibility” for the crime.
The lack of clarity and consistency of land titling in the Peruvian Amazon has long been “a ticking bomb” for violent social conflict, said Julia Urrunaga, Peru director for the Environmental Investigation Agency, EIA.
After four years of investigations into land-grabbing and large-scale agribusiness projects, the EIA had uncovered “chaos, abuses, violations of Indigenous and local community rights as well as violations of environmental and forestry laws,” Urrunaga said.
“All of this with impunity in an environment dominated by corruption that ends up favouring large scale investors,” she added.
A local investigation in Ucayali also alleged former officials colluded in the falsification of land titles which were then sold to the highest bidder.
“Everything points to regional government people being involved in trafficking land,” said Jose Luis Guzman, an environmental prosecutor in the Amazon region which is plagued by illegal logging.
Observers fear the emergence of palm oil trade will fuel a new surge in land grabbing, violence and deforestation in Peru, while the government claimed its cultivation will not threaten forests.
More than 120 environmental and land defenders have been killed around the world in 2017 so far, according to The Guardian and Global Witness. Many of the deaths are linked to deforestation and industry.