Friday, May 30, 2008
Three near-naked figures are visible in the forest clearing. Two of them are men, their bodies daubed with a red dye, and they are aiming their bows at the sky. A third figure appears to be a woman, her body blackened and only her pale hands and face betraying her natural colour.
This remarkable photograph is the first proof of the existence of one of the world's last uncontacted tribes. Taken from a plane that was flying low over the canopy of the Amazon rainforest near the border between Brazil and Peru, it could play a vital part in ensuring the tribe's survival.
"We did the overflight to show their houses, to show they are there, to show they exist," said José Carlos dos Reis Meirelles Junior, an expert on the remote tribal people who live beyond the boundaries of the modern world. "This is very important because there are some who doubt their existence."
Mr Meirelles, who works for FUNAI, the Brazilian government's Indian affairs department, said they first encountered the group on a morning flight earlier this month and saw dozens of people dotted around a clearing with two communal huts. When they returned later the same day, the impact of the earlier flight was clear. Most of the women and children had fled into the forest, he said, and those that were left had painted their bodies, taken up arms and appeared to be on a "war footing".
Experts believe that the hostile response is a clear indication that they understand that contact with the outside world spells danger. Across the border in Peru, similar tribes are being driven from their lands by aggressive oil and mining interests and illegal loggers.
Peru's President, Alan Garcia, has openly questioned the existence of uncontacted tribes. Meanwhile, evidence of the destruction of the forest has been piling up down river in the Brazilian state of Acre, where barrels of Peruvian petrol have washed up along with debris from logging operations. "What is happening in this region [of Peru] is a monumental crime against the natural world, the tribes, the fauna, and is further testimony to the complete irrationality with which we, the 'civilised' ones, treat the world," said Mr Meirelles.
After a decades-long political battle, indigenous groups now have their land rights protected under Brazilian law. The London-based charity Survival International is leading calls for Peru to act in accordance with international law and protect the tribes on its territory.
Survival's Fiona Watson, who recently returned from the region, said that Indians fleeing over the border into Brazil could be driven into conflict with uncontacted tribes already living there. "It is clear from this photograph that they want to be left alone," she said.
Encounters with the outside world are typically fatal for these tribes, who have no defences against the common cold and other commonplace diseases. "The groups are often fragments of much larger tribes that were overrun in the past and have died from disease or at the barrel of a gun," said Miss Watson.
The experience of the Akunsu tribe in neighbouring Rondonia, contacted a little over a decade ago, is not unusual. Today, only six members of the tribe survive. All relatives, they cannot marry and the group is expected to die out within a generation.
One of the survivors said they were overrun by loggers who sent gunmen into their areas to drive them out. Under Brazilian law, land occupied by Indians cannot be cultivated so ranchers make sure that no Indians survive.
Israeli PM Ehud Olmert's party should prepare for possible elections, his party deputy has said, amid calls that he step down over corruption claims.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, tipped as a possible successor to Mr Olmert, said Kadima should prepare for "every eventuality, including elections".
On Wednesday, a key ally said he should take leave of absence or resign.
"I think the reality has changed since yesterday and Kadima has to make decisions in relation to what it does," Ms Livni told reporters in Jerusalem.
"I suspect that Kadima needs to start right away acting for every eventuality, including elections."
She also said she favoured holding a party primary to give the public a say in choosing a leader, and to "restore the trust" in the centrist party.
Mr Olmert said on Wednesday he was "not going to give up", after Defence Minister Ehud Barak, warned he would take his Labour Party out of Mr Olmert's ruling coalition if he did not step down.
The prime minister has not been charged, but has said he would resign if indicted - which would be expected to lead to early elections.
Correspondents say the growing uncertainty over Mr Olmert's future casts doubt over Mr Olmert's ability to press forward current peace talks with the Palestinians, with his weak domestic political position likely to make it harder for him to negotiate.
Mr Olmert, the head of the Kadima party, admits accepting funds before he became prime minister in 2006.
But he insists they were legal contributions towards his campaigns for re-election as Jerusalem mayor and for the leadership of the Likud party.
He has previously said he has no plans to step aside unless he is charged.
Kadima has just 29 MPs out of a total of 120 seats in the parliament, the Knesset, and relies on the Labour Party's 19 MPs as key allies in its governing coalition.
On Tuesday, the US businessman at the centre of the allegations told investigators that he gave Mr Olmert envelopes full of cash.
Morris Talansky was questioned by investigators, and is due to be cross-examined by Mr Olmert's defence team in July.
Testifying in an Israeli court, Mr Talansky said he handed over about $150,000 of his own money to Mr Olmert, directly and through aides, over a 15-year period.
The rest of the money came from fundraising.
He said he did not know how the money had been spent, adding: "I only know he loved expensive cigars. I know he loved pens, watches."
Mr Talansky said that Mr Olmert also asked him for a personal loan of $25,000-$30,000 for a holiday in Italy.
In another case, he said, he walked to a bank to withdraw $15,000 in cash for a loan as Mr Olmert waited in a luxury hotel.Mr Talansky said he thought Mr Olmert's "word was gold", but that Mr Olmert never repaid either loan.
BBC NEWS REPORT