Brazil police arrest loggers in Amazon reserve

BRASILIA Wed May 28, 2008 5:25pm EDT

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BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian federal police said they arrested on Wednesday at least 40 members of an illegal logging operation in an Amazon tribal Indian reservation amid growing concern over destruction of the world's largest rain forest.

The operation cleared the equivalent of 70,000 football fields of virgin forest in the Vale do Guapore Indian reserve in Mato Grosso state, the federal police said in a statement.

Among those arrested were loggers, highway and military police officers, neighboring farmers and state civil servants.

The loggers bribed officials of the government's Indian foundation Funai and befriended Indians with gifts such as cars, motorcycles and chain saws, a police spokeswoman told Reuters from Mato Grosso.

The arrest follows rising concern over the rain forest among environmental groups after Environment Minister Marina Silva, who was seen as a guardian of the Amazon, stepped down on May 13.

They fear the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is accelerating big infrastructure projects such as roads and hydroelectric plants that will destroy more forest.

Country-sized chunks of the Amazon forest are cut down every year. Conservationists blame farmers and cattle ranchers for pushing deeper into the forest in search of cheap land to boost output as commodity prices soar.

Defense Minister Nelson Jobim announced earlier this month that the army would deploy troops in Indian reserves along the country's borders. The military and conservative politicians expressed concern the unprotected reserves made Brazil's borders vulnerable to drug traffickers and Colombian guerrilla fighters.

(Reporting by Raymond Colitt, editing by Vicki Allen)

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