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$500,000 bounty alleged on activist bishop

/ Source: The Associated Press

A shadowy consortium of ranchers and loggers has put a $500,000 price on the head of a bishop who defends poor settlers and Indians in the Amazon, a human rights group said Tuesday.

The consortium has mapped out a detailed plan to kill Bishop Erwin Krautler, an Austrian national who has worked in the largely lawless northern state of Para since 1980, the Catholic Church-linked Indigenous Missionary Council said in a statement.

"We cannot provide too many details so as not to hinder police investigations," council spokeswoman Clarissa Tavares said.

Powerful Amazon business interests have criticized the 69-year-old Krautler, who often protests land grabbing, debt slavery and environmental destruction.

The bishop has been under police protection since last year, according to Para state police spokesman Emanuel Villaca. He told The Associated Press that an investigation of the alleged bounty is under way "to see if it's true."

Krautler presides over the Xingu diocese, where rain forest defender and Catholic nun Dorothy Stang was gunned down on dirt road deep in the heart of the forest in 2005, following a dispute with ranchers who wanted to develop a piece of land she was trying to preserve.

A Senate commission investigating Stang's murder said it found evidence of a larger consortium behind her killing and a list of activists who had been targeted for assassination. The allegations were not investigated further, however.

Four men were convicted for murdering Stang, and a fifth, rancher Vitalmiro Moura, was convicted and sentenced to 27 years for ordering the killing along with rancher Regivaldo Galvao.

Galvao is still awaiting trial, and Moura will automatically receive a retrial in May under a Brazilian law for first offenders sentenced to more than 20 years.