June 30, 2014 / 5:45 PM / in 4 years

Swedish hostel owner found dead in Rio de Janeiro slum

RIO DE JANEIRO, June 30 (Reuters) - The Swedish owner of a hostel in a Rio de Janeiro slum was found dead over the weekend, police said, prompting a murder probe in one of the city’s most-visited shantytowns, a cornerstone of a local campaign to pacify the historically violent neighborhoods.

With Rio bustling with foreign tourists during Brazil’s hosting of World Cup soccer, the death is being investigated as a homicide, police said. They declined to detail how the victim might have died or whether they had any suspects.

Police responded to a call on Saturday in Vidigal, a steep and scenic slum that rises above some of Rio’s most popular beaches and in recent years has enjoyed a spike in tourism and investments by entrepreneurs eager to accommodate it.

Inside the Alto Vidigal guesthouse there, officers found the body of Mille Ballai Miuta, an Iranian-born Swedish citizen. At present, police said, they are looking for witnesses who might be able to help the investigation.

Sweden’s consul in Rio referred questions about the death to the Swedish embassy in the capital, Brasilia. Officials at the embassy could not be reached.

One of Rio’s best known favelas, as the slums are known, Vidigal has long illustrated the stark social and economic divides present in Brazil’s second-largest city.

Despite its privileged location and proximity to some of the most expensive real estate in Brazil, the neighborhood for decades was wracked by poverty and crime, lacking law enforcement and other public services.

Rio’s state and municipal government in recent years sought to improve favelas through a “pacification” process, whereby police have occupied dozens of slums and expelled the drug traffickers who once controlled them.

Despite initial success for the process, traffickers in some favelas have fought back over the past year, killing more than a dozen police officers in pacified areas and raising questions about the long-term sustainability of the effort.

Residents in many favelas had also complained of police intimidation and abuse, and were dissatisfied because many of the public investments that were meant to follow pacification - from schools to health clinics to basic sewerage service - had not materialized.

Fears ahead of the World Cup that violence might erupt in the slums during the tournament, however, so far have been unfounded. The tournament ends July 13. (Reporting by Paulo Prada; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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