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Brazilian murders point to slave traders

The murder of four government officials in Brazil suggests the work of slave or child labor traders in the area, authorities said on Wednesday.
/ Source: Reuters

Four Brazilian Labor Ministry officials were killed Wednesday in a shooting that could be related to the discovery of slavery near the capital, prompting the government to pledge all resources necessary to find the killers.

The killing “had the characteristics of an execution,” said a ministry spokeswoman. Three ministry inspectors died at the scene and their driver, who was also shot, alerted authorities before he died on his way to the hospital.

Their car was blocked as they were ambushed at a traffic circle where a group of men opened fire with machine guns, according to a federal police spokesman. They had been in the area since Monday.

He said federal police officers had traveled to the farming region about 140 kilometers from the capital, Brasilia, and had erected road blocs to catch the killers. “This could have been because of slavery or child labor,” he said.

“This brutality will not go unpunished; all resources have been mobilized to catch the criminals,” said Vice-President Jose Alencar in a statement.

There are an estimated 25,000 slaves in Brazil, mostly in isolated parts of the countryside where powerful farmers hold sway. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has vowed to eradicate slavery.

Labor Ministry inspectors travel around Brazil’s interior, usually accompanied by armed federal police officers. They normally make surprise raids on farms to find out if workers are kept in slave-like conditions, often based on tip-offs from informants. If slaves are found they are set free.

The inspectors killed Wednesday were not accompanied by police as it was a routine inspection and they were not specifically looking for slavery.

Labor Minister Ricardo Berzoini and the government’s human rights secretary, Nilmario Miranda, traveled to the site.

Little is known about the site other than it is dominated by big soybean farms.