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Brazil announces more than 30,000 square miles of new protected areas in the Amazon rainforest

Brazil Plans Vast Amazon Reserve to Stem Logging
Feb 17, 2005 By Tiago Pariz

Blackwater river in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil
BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazil's president on Thursday decreed the creation of one of the world's largest environmental protection areas in the Amazon to combat illegal logging and rising violence after the killing of a prominent U.S. human rights activist.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva signed the plan to safeguard the most threatened area of Brazil's Amazon rain forest after U.S. nun Dorothy Stang, 74, was killed there on Saturday by gunmen with suspected links to illegal loggers.

The murder of Stang sparked an international outcry to stop death squad activities and deforestation in the Amazon.

Lula said he would not allow powerful timber mafias to threaten his government. He set aside an area three times the size of Belgium for conservation and for restricted logging to block their advance on the world's largest rain forest.

This is the most important package of measures for the Amazon in Brazil's history, said Nilo D'Avila, the Amazon coordinator for the environmental group Greenpeace, which was among dozens of organizations calling for action. "It's very sad a person has to die, a person as important as Sister Dorothy, for the government to take such a big decision."

The 32,000 square-mile protection area decreed by Lula spans the states of Para, Mato Grosso and Rondonia on the western side of the BR 163 highway an access route to the forest for illegal loggers and settlers.

Lula banned use of the BR 163 forest protection area for six months until controlled logging and reserves are set up.

Farther east in Para, the government created conservation areas covering 1,500 square miles about the size of the U.S. state of Rhode Island.

One of the reserves, known as the Terra do Meio, is in the Trans-Amazonian highway region where Stang was gunned down as she defended small farmers at a government settlement project.

Activists say Amazon violence will escalate unless the government clamps down on loggers and landowners who use gunmen and militias to control rain forest areas.

Murder prompts Brazil Amazon curb

Brazil plans to protect a huge swathe of the Amazon after the murder of a US-born missionary who had campaigned for the forest's peasant farmers.

Nearly four million hectares (10 million acres) in Para state will become a conservation area in a bid to ward off loggers and landowners.

The government will also reinforce the environmental police force.

Jungle troops have begun flying into Para to help track down Sister Dorothy Stang's killers and restore order.

Helicopters ferried 110 soldiers from the 51st Jungle Infantry Division into the small town of Anapu, where they set up camp near the cemetery where the nun is buried.

About 2,000 troops are being deployed in Para after the murder on Saturday - a suspected contract killing by local ranchers.


Police hunting four suspects have a daunting task: the state is twice the size of France.

The jungle is against us, said police team leader Superintendent Jose Salles.

We still don't have any concrete clues where these people are.

Three Brazilian activists were also killed in Para this week.

Sister Dorothy, who was a naturalised Brazilian, had complained that the government was not doing enough to stop land-related violence.

Announcing the creation of the new park in the capital, Brasilia, Environment Minister Marina Silva said the country could not "give in to people committing acts of violence".

The government is putting the brakes on the predators, she said. Officials will also assess if another large strip of land along a federal highway can be protected.

Unpunished crimes

The BBC's Steve Kingstone notes that prominent land reformers are angry that it took the death of a foreigner to force the government into action.

They point out that Para has seen more than 500 land-related killings over the past two decades.

In all but a handful of cases, the crimes went unpunished.

The government's priority now is to avoid any further settling of scores in a region which has been marked by conflict between loggers and wealthy landowners on one side and peasant farmers and environmentalists on the other.

As well as maintaining order, the soldiers will offer support to the police as they try to trace the two hired gunmen accused of Sister Dorothy's murder.


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