Brazil promises backing for beleaguered indigenous people

Brasília (AFP) - Brazil's government on Wednesday brushed off criticism that it is failing to protect vulnerable indigenous tribes in the wake of a bloody attack that left 13 people wounded.

The assault on Sunday in northeastern Maranhao state, which targeted members of the Gamela tribe, is believed to have been linked to land disputes.

Although Brazil's 900,000 indigenous people -- 0.4 percent of the entire population -- are meant to control about 12 percent of the country's territory, the government's failure to demarcate the exact boundaries has left them open to violent incursions from the farm industry.

But Justice Minister Osmar Serraglio told reporters that Brazil's native peoples had not been forgotten.

"The government of President Michel Temer certainly wants to legalize the demarcation of the territories," he said.

"We will identify the reasons for why recognition of these lands has taken so long and is so complicated."

Serraglio has been strongly criticized for ties to the agribusiness lobby.

The Indian Missionary Congress, a Catholic-linked organization, said some 200 people linked to farm businesses had attacked the native people with machetes and firearms in Maranhao.

The head of the hospital where three people were still listed in serious condition told the G1 news site that no one had lost their hands, as originally reported.

One victim suffered "deep cuts on the forearm... (but) the hands were not severed," the site quoted him as saying.

Despite government reassurances, the process for recognizing territories has been held up due to lack of money, Antonio Costa -- head of the state body for handling indigenous affairs, Funai -- said Tuesday.

Forty-four percent of the budget had been lost in government austerity cuts, he added.

At least 137 tribal people were murdered in 2015, according to the Indigenous Missionary Council. The number of those killed since 2003 is above 890.