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Brazil's army leads police against drug gangs

August 20, 2018

Brazil's army has been given command of police by the president in the violence-wracked state of Rio de Janeiro. Human rights groups expressed concern about unacceptable killings.

Brazilian troops involved in the operation
Image: Reuters/R. Moraes

Some 4,200 soldiers and 70 police officers, as well as armored vehicles and aircraft, were involved in early morning raids into slum areas of northern Rio de Janeiro on Monday, where drug-related violence has spiked in the last year. 

At least five suspected members of drug gangs were killed in shootouts as residents stayed in their homes due to the fear of being shot. 

Military spokesman Carlos Cinelli said weapons and drugs were seized during the operation. In an email to Reuters, the army said "the operations are ongoing and there could be more deaths."

Brasilien Militäreinsatz in Rio de Janeiro
Brazilian soldiers in the Alemao slum area of Rio de JaneiroImage: Reuters/R. Moraes

President Michel Temer in February announced emergency measures authorizing the army to take command of police forces in Rio de Janeiro state.

In the first six months of the federal intervention, to the end of July, the number of murders in the state rose by 5 percent to 3,476, according to official state data released last week.

Human rights concerns

Human rights activists have said the deaths and the central role of the army in the operations were a worrying development in Rio's crime wars.

"We think this is very serious. If there is confirmation that the dead were executed by officers of the armed forces, it would be a troubling change," said Silvia Ramos, from the Observatory of the Intervention, which monitors the security forces in Rio.

"The armed forces cannot enter this logic of useless confrontations and unacceptable killings that are the hallmark of the Rio police," Ramos added.

Human Rights Watch criticizes Brazilian drug policy

Almost 64,000 people were murdered in Brazil last year, a record high.

The rise in violence has become a key issue ahead of presidential elections in October.

An opinion poll on Monday showed jailed former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had increased his support by 5 percentage points and would win the elections, if he was allowed to run. 

jbh/jm (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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