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Jade Le Deley
Associated Press

PARIS — A Paris judge on Thursday ordered a mediation process to settle a legal dispute pitting environmental groups and representatives of Brazil's Indigenous community against a major French retailer accused of selling beef linked to deforestation and land grabs in the Amazon rainforest.

Several leading Indigenous representatives, including some wearing traditional headdresses, traveled from Brazil to the main Paris courthouse, where they held a demonstration to denounce international threats to their territories and attract public attention to cattle farming practices in the Amazon.

Climate groups and Indigenous activists filed a lawsuit last year against France’s Casino Group, which has supermarkets around the world, accusing it of violating human rights and environmental rules.

At a court hearing Thursday, the judge ordered both parties to try to reach an agreement by Sept. 15 through a confidential mediation process. If no agreement can be reached, the case will go to trial.

“We will meet with the mediator before the end of July and see if we can start a mediation process upon analyzing the Casino proposals,” said Sebastien Mabile, a lawyer for one of the environmental groups.

Casino Group lawyers Sébastien Shapira and Thomas Rouhette told The Associated Press that the France-based supermarket chain “satisfied" with the judge's move and has always been open to discussion. The company said it is "undoubtedly one of the companies most advanced in combating deforestation," without elaborating on measures it takes to do so.

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For the Indigenous movement, the lawsuit against Casino Group is an attempt to hold someone accountable for buying cattle they say is raised illegally in their territory, with activists warning that far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s government policies are further threatening indigenous lands.

Since taking office in 2019, Bolsonaro has repeatedly said that Indigenous peoples have too much land, saying he would revise demarcations, even though such a move is forbidden by law.

Cattle ranching is one of the main drivers of deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon, with levels reaching record highs earlier this year. More than 1,000 square kilometers (nearly 400 square miles) were deforested in April, according to satellite alerts. The biome holds about 57 million hectares (140.8 million acres) of pasture, an area slightly larger than France, according to MapBiomas, a network of nonprofits, universities and technology startups.

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