February 12, 2008 / 2:09 PM / in 11 years

Brazil's Lula to talk defense and gold with Sarkozy

By Raymond Colitt

MACAPA, Brazil, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Forging a military alliance between France and Brazil and curbing illegal activity over the Brazil-French Guiana border will be the focus of talks between their two leaders on Tuesday.

Presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Nicolas Sarkozy of France will also inaugurate the construction of a bridge linking Brazil with French Guiana — a key project in developing the wild jungle area.

The bridge between Brazil’s Oiapoque town and Saint-Georges will be the first land border crossing for French Guiana, an overseas department of France separated from Brazil by the Oiapoque River.

Upon its planned completion in 2010, it will also be the only bridge linking European territory to the Americas.

Lula is keen to discuss a strategic military alliance with France, his aides said. Brazil wants France to sell it jet fighters and helicopters and, possibly, a $600 million Scorpene-class submarine.

Brazilian defense minister Nelson Jobim was in Paris last month for talks with Sarkozy and French defense industry executives.

"Our objective is to deepen this strategic alliance," Lula spokesman Marcelo Baumbach said.

The two leaders will also discuss how to combat illegal gold mining and trafficking in the border region, according to a French diplomat in Brasilia.

Brazilian wild cat miners, often heavily armed, smuggle gold back over the border to Brazil and their mining operations inflict environmental damage in French Guiana.

"This is our only border where the Brazilians create more of a problem than our neighbors," Mauro Sposito, head of border control with Brazil’s federal police, told Reuters.

Thousands of Brazilians were in French Guiana illegally, he said.

Biofuels, civilian nuclear cooperation as well as global trade talks were also likely to be on the agenda, Baumbach said.

The two presidents will unveil a model of the bridge across the Oiapoque river at a detachment of the Foreign Legion, the famed force of international recruits that used to defend France’s empire.

A regiment guards the Kourou space center, where Europe’s Ariana rockets are launched.

The bridge was symbolic of Brazil’s efforts to integrate South American countries, government officials said.

Due to the lack of roads, railways and ports several neighbors in the region trade far more with the United States or Europe than with each other.

(Reporting by Raymond Colitt; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Eric Beech)

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