Brazil launches military operations in the Amazon rain forest

FILE PHOTO: Smoke billows from a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil, September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

By Jake Spring

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil launched a military deployment to protect the Amazon rainforest on Monday, Vice President Hamilton Mourao said, in response to surging deforestation this year with the high season for forest fires still approaching.

The military – along with environmental authorities, police and other government agencies – began with an operation to stop illegal environmental destruction in a national forest in the state of Rondonia near the Bolivian border, Mourao said at a press conference alongside other government ministers.

Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva said authorities are establishing bases of operation in three Amazon cities, with 3,800 troops mobilized to begin raids against illegal logging and other crimes, with initial operational costs of 60 million reais ($10.32 million).

Government data released on Friday showed that deforestation rose 55% in the first four months of the year, compared to the same period a year ago, to 1,202 square kilometers (464 square miles). That comes on top of last year’s destruction rising to an 11-year high, provoking international outcry that not enough was being done to protect the world’s largest rainforest.

President Jair Bolsonaro issued a decree last week deploying the military to the region, repeating a move he made last year to send in the armed forces after forest fires and deforestation surged. This year troops are being sent in three months earlier than in 2019.

($1 = 5.8160 reais)

(Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Sandra Maler and Aurora Ellis)

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