February 26, 2008 / 12:47 AM / 10 years ago

Brazil police force to combat Amazon deforestation

TAILANDIA, Brazil, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Brazil’s federal police said it launched an operation on Monday aimed at fighting deforestation in the Amazon, a week after townspeople clashed with local police over illegal sawmills.

About 300 federal police agents and troopers from the paramilitary national security force arrived in northern Para state in helicopters and a caravan of vehicles. The operation dubbed Arch of Fire should have a total of 1,000 agents on the ground when it is in full force, the agency said.

"This operation will be permanent in nature," a federal police spokesman said.

Violent protests broke out last week in Tailandia, about 112 miles (180 km) south of Para state capital Belem, when local police seized 17,000 cubic yards (13,000 cubic metres) of timber from illegal sawmills.

Logging is a mainstay of the local economy and Tailandia, with 140 sawmills, is at the center of a battle over land and resources within the Amazon. Hired gunmen are often involved and the town is is one of Brazil’s most violent municipalities, according to official statistics on homicides.

Official figures released in January showed that between August and December of last year, about 2,703 square miles (7,000 square km) were chopped down illegally in the Amazon rain forest. It was the first increase in deforestation after three years of declines.

(Reporting by Carmen Munari and Paulo Santos, Writing by Elzio Barreto)

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