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updated 3/30/2007 10:07:05 AM ET 2007-03-30T14:07:05

Brazil's government said it will provide free Internet access to native Indian tribes in the Amazon in an effort to help protect the world's biggest rain forest.

The environment and communications ministers signed an agreement Thursday with the Forest People's Network to provide an Internet signal by satellite to 150 communities, including many reachable only by riverboat, allowing them to report illegal logging and ranching, request help and coordinate efforts to preserve the forest.

The goal is to "encourage those peoples to join the public powers in the environmental management of the country," Francisco Costa of the Environment Ministry said in a statement. "The government intends to strengthen the Forest People's Network, a digital web for monitoring, protection and education."

The ministry said city and state governments must first install telecenters with computers in selected areas, including indigenous lands. The federal government will then provide the satellite connection.

The areas in 13 states, including the Pantanal wetlands and the poor northeast, were chosen by the Environment Ministry, the National Indian Foundation, or Funai, and the government environmental protection agency Ibama, the ministry said.

Francisco Ashaninka, a native Indian from the Ashaninka tribe who works for the western Acre state government, said the arrival of Internet was a success for the Forest People's Network, created in 2003.

He said there are currently a few telecenters on the outskirts of cities, but that the new ones will be built deep in the forest and will allow Indians easy access to public officials so that they can alert them of illegal miners, loggers and ranchers.

"It will be a real chance for the indigenous communities to acquire, share and provide information to public officials," Ashaninka said. He added the Internet would "strengthen indigenous culture by linking them and providing environmental education."

Ailton Krenak, a member of the Krenak tribe as well as the network, acknowledged that the Internet could easily erode tribal culture, but supports the project nonetheless. "I don't like computers but I don't like planes either," he said. "What can you do?"

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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