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BRASILIA -- A judge on Monday ordered the detention of two military police officers who had been sentenced for the 1996 killing of 19 landless farmers during a protest march in the northern Brazilian state of Para.
Judge Edmar Pereira ruled that Colonel Mario Colares Pantoja, who was sentenced to 228 years in jail in 2002 and Major Jose Maria Pereira de Oliveira, sentenced to 158 years, should be detained, a Para court said.
Both officers were in charge of police personnel who opened fire in April 1996 on activists of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) that were blocking a road at Eldorado dos Carajas in Para state, killing 19 and wounding 70, according to the prosecution.
The protesters were calling for the federal appropriation of an unproductive ranch where the MST had mounted a camp called "Macaxeira" with almost 3000 families.
Despite the 2002 sentence, the two police officers managed to avoid jail, through a series of appeals.
Every year, the MST marks the anniversary of what it calls a "massacre" with nationwide protests.
Meanwhile on Monday the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), the Catholic Church's arm that fights for the rights of rural workers, peasants and defends land reforms, slammed a 15 percent increase in conflicts over disputes over land of labor issues.
It also decried a surge in the number of death threats from 125 in 2010 to 347 last year, most of them in the Amazon region.
"The Amazon is stained with blood and this stain continues to expand," Laisa Santos, sister of former activist Maria do Espirito Santo, who was killed along with her husband in 2011 in Para, told the official Agencia Brasil.
Last year, indigenous Kaiowa Guarani chieftain Nissio Gomes was killed by armed, hooded gunmen in his hamlet but his body was never found, indigenous officials said.
Rights groups say that there have been very few prosecutions in such killings and that the loggers, ranchers and estate owners believed to be behind the murders are rarely brought to justice.
The Pastoral Land Commission and the MST are campaigning for agrarian reform that would redistribute land owned by big landowners to landless farmers.