Troops seize Brazil's largest slum

  • Article by: BRADLEY BROOKS , Associated Press
  • Updated: November 13, 2011 - 10:57 PM

Drug gang was target as 3,000 security forces moved to regain control of Rio shantytown.

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Government armored vehicles accompanied 3,000 soldiers and police officers who moved into the Rocinha shantytown in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday

Photo: Silvia Izquierdo, Associated Press

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RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - More than 3,000 police officers and soldiers raced into Brazil's biggest slum before dawn on Sunday, quickly gaining control of a shantytown ruled for decades by a drug gang.

It was the most ambitious operation yet in an effort to increase security before Rio hosts the final matches of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Officials are counting on those events to signal Brazil's arrival as a global economic, political and cultural power.

"We're taking back this territory for the 100,000 citizens of Rocinha, people who have needed peace," said Rio Gov. Sergio Cabral.

The action in Rocinha, which is located above some of Rio's most exclusive residential neighborhoods, is part of a campaign to drive the drug gangs out of the city's slums, where the traffickers often rule unchallenged. Rio has more than 1,000 shantytowns where about one-third of the city's 6 million people live.

Authorities said it took just 90 minutes to seize control of Rocinha. Police simultaneously overran the neighboring Vidigal slum, also previously dominated by the drug gang Friends of Friends.

Police cleared alleys and streets on their way up winding roads. Helicopters continued to pound the air above, crisscrossing the hill and flying low over the jungle surrounding the slum, as police hunted suspects who may have fled into the forest.

Residents peeked out their windows and stared as the armored personnel carriers blasted up streets. Rifle-toting officers from elite police units trained their weapons down narrow corridors.

Officials said that the takeover was made possible by months of intelligence gathering and the arrest last week of Antonio Bonfim Lopes, believed to be the top drug lord in the slum.

In a side alleyway, police discovered a house they said belonged to the No. 2 gang leader, Sandro Luiz de Paula Amorim, who was captured by police a few days earlier as they encircled Rocinha with roadblocks. In stark contrast to the impoverished shacks around it, Amorim's three-story home was outfitted with a swimming pool, massive aquarium and high-definition TV.

One resident applauded the police invasion. "Tell the world we're not all drug traffickers! We're working people and now they're coming to liberate us," a man yelled as police rolled by.

Marisa Costa da Silva, 54, who runs a candy shop at the base of the slum, was less sure: "Lord knows if there will be war or peace, or even if things will be better if police take this slum ... I have no idea what to expect."

The New York Times contributed to this report.

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