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Martina Paredes said her brother’s body had one bullet wound in the leg and another in the head. “For me, they shot him from above,” execution style, she said.

When the nongovernmental Human Rights Coordinator complained to the prosecutor’s office, said the group’s lawyer, Jimena Lopez, it was told that “Paraguayan law doesn’t penalize summary executions, so the prosecutor’s office can’t investigate a complaint about an act that’s unpunishable.”

Ms. Paredes said victims’ families want to file an official complaint against the national police, but their lawyer’s priority is to defend the 12 suspects — who face 18 to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Ballistics tests presumably would indicate whether the negotiators were felled by the kind of automatic weapons that police carried or by one of the handful of low-caliber hunting rifles recovered from peasants.

But Mr. Rachid has not revealed what evidence he has gathered.

Advocates for the farmworkers say he is biased because his father was a close friend of the owner of the occupied ranch.

Mr. Rachid has dismissed those accusations, saying his critics are only trying to influence the country’s presidential election, scheduled in April.

A long-standing dispute

The peasants say they’re afraid.

One of this community’s few surviving leaders, Vidal Vega, was killed recently by two masked gunmen on a motorcycle as he fed his chickens. He was expected to be a witness for the defendants.

“We think he was assassinated by hit men who were sent, we don’t know by whom, perhaps to frighten us and frustrate our fight to recover the state lands that were illegally taken,” Ms. Paredes told AP.

Most of the jailed suspects are farmers.

A businessman who gave a ride to a wounded survivor also was detained, as was a Communist Party activist who helped organize the occupation.

The underlying dispute that set up the clash was decades in the making.

The area’s poor residents allege the land was stolen from the state by Sen. Blas Riquelme, a leader of the Colorado Party that backed dictator Alfredo Stroessner from 1954 to 1989 and has dominated the nation’s politics ever since.

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