Seven police and nine squatters were killed Friday when security forces tried to evict landless peasants from a rural estate in the northeastern province of Canindeyu, Paraguayan authorities said.
Around 100 people were wounded in a gunbattle between the cops and the squatters.
The clash took place on the Morumbi property, a spread of 2,000 hectares (4,938 acres) located some 380 kilometers (236 miles) northeast of this capital.
Authorities sent 321 police officers backed by helicopters to clear the peasants off the estate, pursuant to a court order obtained by Morumbi’s owner, prominent politician and businessman Blas N. Riquelme.
“As of now we have seven losses, seven police who have died in this judicial-police operation,” Interior Minister Carlos Filizzola said at a joint press conference in Asuncion with his counterpart from the defense ministry, Catalino Roy.
The ministers talked to reporters at the presidential palace after meeting with head of state Fernando Lugo.
“Nine to 10 peasants” also died, Filizzola said, accusing the squatters of firing the first shot.
Some of the armed peasants subsequently withdrew into a wooded area, where they remain surrounded by police, he said.
Paraguayan lawmakers announced plans Friday for a special session to consider imposing a state of emergency in Canindeyu.
The government has seen no indication that the shadowy EPP rebel group, which operates in the northeastern part of the country, had any part in Friday’s incident, Filizzola said.
He attributed the violence to “peasants of various origins ... who have acted in previous occupations of the Morumbi estate and in the assault on the prosecutor’s office in Curuguaty.”
Land occupations are common in central and northeastern Paraguay. The peasants usually target massive soy plantations owned by businessmen from neighboring Brazil.
Paraguay’s Truth and Justice Commission said in a 2008 report that the 1954-1989 regime of dictator Alfredo Stroessner illegally awarded titles to nearly 6.75 million hectares (16.66 million acres) of land.
Those “ill-gotten” properties represent almost a third of the country’s arable land, according to the commission.