January 4, 2017 / 5:34 PM / 3 years ago

Brazil state governor calls for war on drug gangs after massacre

MANAUS/BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - The governor of the state that saw Brazil’s bloodiest prison massacre in decades this week urged federal authorities on Wednesday to step up the fight against drug trafficking, which he blames for a wave of violence in the remote jungle region.

General view of a public jail in Manaus, Brazil, after some prisoners were relocated following a deadly prison riot, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Three days after a clash between drug gangs left 56 dead, Amazonas Governor Jose Melo proposed creating a national fund to finance the relocation of 10 percent of the armed forces to the border to stop cocaine flowing into Brazil.

“Over the last two years our prison population has doubled because of drug trafficking,” Melo told a local radio station. “We need the armed forces to prevent drugs from entering our country and reach our cities.”

The free flow of cocaine from neighboring Colombia and Peru through Brazil’s porous jungle border is raising pressure on a penal system that is struggling with legions of drug addicts.

Amazonas state borders the world’s No. 1 cocaine producer Colombia and No. 2 Peru.

Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes, however, played down the need to tighten border security and instead questioned the readiness of the state government, which had intelligence reports warning of a prison break during the holidays.

“There are reports that the security secretary (of Amazonas) had information of a possible escape plan between Christmas and New Year’s,” Moraes told reporters in Brasilia. “The federal government was not informed and there was no request for help.”

The brutal killing, in which many of the victims were decapitated and burned beyond recognition, shocked public opinion and cast new light on the horrors of overcrowded and understaffed prisons.

An escalating turf war between rival gangs for control of the lucrative drug trade has fueled a rise in prison violence and raised concerns that Monday’s massacre could unleash a wave of reprisals.

“This conflict between criminal factions is happening in all the states of the north and now it hit the Amazon,” Melo said.

A new clash between rivals gangs at a prison in the northeastern state of Paraiba on Wednesday left two inmates dead and two injured, television channel Globo News reported.

Some 223 inmates from prisons in Amazonas state have been relocated to an abandoned jail in Manaus to protect them from rival gangs following the riot.

Melo said the state plans to build new prisons to move minor drug offenders away from the most dangerous criminals.

Reporting by Alonso Soto; Editing by David Gregorio

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