updated 4/19/2004 11:24:34 AM ET 2004-04-19T15:24:34

Police began retrieving the bodies of 26 diamond prospectors killed in a mysterious clash with Indians in the Amazon jungle, and the state’s governor said that the death toll could rise.

The bodies of another 30 prospectors could still be inside the reservation in northwest Brazil, also victims of the attack that saw Cinta Larga Indians apparently massacre dozens of prospectors on April 7.

Four days later, the first three bodies were found and taken out of the reservation. On Sunday, more federal police were flown into the state to help with the removal of bodies and seal off the Indians’ reservation so miners would not return. They set to work clearing areas of the jungle to allow helicopters to land.

“Unfortunately many other bodies will be found,” said Rondonia state Gov. Ivo Cassol. “This is due to the slowness of the federal agencies.”

Firmino Aparecido, the city police chief of Espigao d’Oeste, about 60 miles from the reservation, said the miners were all shot to death. Some news reports said some of the victims had been clubbed to death, then hacked to pieces. Other were reportedly beheaded.

Tensions between prospectors and Indians have flared often in recent years, but little was known about the reasons for the latest violence. In the past, some chiefs have charged prospectors for access to the reservation even though Brazilian law forbids mining there.

The bodies of the dead were spread around a half-mile area, Aparecido said Saturday. Citing information from local prospectors, he said the bodies of at least another 30 prospectors could still be somewhere inside the reservation, home to some 1,300 Indians and South America’s largest diamond reserves.

The 6.7 million acre reservation, which is under federal jurisdiction and off limits to state police, is some 370 miles southeast of Porto Velho, capital of Rondonia state.

The Cinta Larga, hunters with a strong warrior tradition, lived in relative isolation until the early 1960s, when the first prospectors and loggers started to enter traditional Indian lands in search of diamonds and gold and timber.

“Recovery will be a difficult and unpleasant task,” said Roberto Lustosa, of the Federal Indian Bureau. “Many of the bodies have been partially eaten by wild animals and all are decomposed after more than 10 days in the jungle.”

In recent years, tensions between prospectors and Indians have flared as more and more prospectors have sought riches in the vast jungle region.

In March 2002, authorities forcibly removed some 3,000 prospectors who had invaded the reservation. Two months earlier, police found the remains of seven people suspected to be prospectors and arrows nearby. In January 2003, federal police evicted some 5,000 prospectors.

Between 1999 and 2002, the bodies of 30 prospectors have been found inside the Roosevelt reservation, according to the Federal Indian Bureau.

Aparecido said the approximately 100 Cinta Larga Indians who lived in Espigao d’Oeste have left the city, fearing reprisals.

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