RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Local officials in Brazil said on Friday they asked the government to offer property deeds to thousands of people living without formal titles in the Amazon rainforest who advocates say are at risk of losing their rights to live on the land.

The request by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Para state would affect an area of 2,500 square kilometers (965 square miles), part of a region called Marajó Archipelago that is owned by the federal government.

The officials said they have been requesting federal government measures for more than a year, without any response.

Without formal titles, residents risk of losing their homes if a government opts to sell the land or an industry eyes the property for its own use, advocates say. Titles also can help residents seeking infrastructure or services.

Land rights are a particularly big issue in Brazil, where the government has said an estimated 100 million people, half of its population, cannot prove full legal ownership of their homes. Many live in sprawling urban slums or favelas, which first developed as squatter communities.

Brazil’s federal government department handling the rainforest case told the Thomson Reuters Foundation it is identifying areas of land belong to the government to begin the process of providing titles to traditional communities living there.

Some 15,000 people are known to live in the region, although the actual number is likely to be higher but many residents have not been registered with the government, local officials said.

People in the region, who are known as river dwellers, are in a precarious situation as long as they do not have title to the land, said federal prosecutor Patrick Colares.

Last year Indústria Trevo Ltda., a flooring company facing bankruptcy, announced an auction to sell the land which it claimed to own.

Colares said the proposed sale had been illegal and that the company had no title deeds and had lost efforts to its claim in court decisions.

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