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Sunday, 13 November 2011

Police wrest control of Rio's largest slum

11:08 |


Crack police forces were Sunday in full control of Rio's largest favela after launching a dawn assault to eject narco-traffickers who had been ruling the area for 30 years. "I have the pleasure to inform you that Rocinha and Vidigal (a neighbouring favela) are under our control. There were no incidents and no shots were fired. We don't have any information on arrests or weapons seized," Alberto Pinheiro Neto, chief of the military police, told a news conference. "The communities have been our control since (1900 AEDT) and we are withdrawing our armour and, in 45 minutes, we will reopen the streets," which had been closed since 0400 GMT ahead of the operation. Advertisement: Story continues below Built on a steep hillside overlooking the city and located between two wealthy neighbourhoods, Rocinha is home to 120,000 people. The long-anticipated operation in a city that has one of the highest murder rates in the country is part of an official campaign since 2008 to restore security in Rio before the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, which Brazil will host. Backed by navy armour and commandos and with two helicopters flying low overhead, hundreds of special forces police and 200 navy commandos punched their way into Rocinha and Vidigal at dawn. "The arrival of the UPP (a police unit set up to pacify the favelas) will be positive for the new generations to put an end to narco-trafficking. I want my sons to stay away from trafficking," said 51-year-old Carlos Alberto, who was one of the few Rocinha residents willing to speak to the press. But not everyone supported the police operation. A few women were seen crying. All access to the two favelas has been blocked since 2.30am (1102 AEDT). Earlier three vehicles blocked one of the avenues in the upper part of Rocinha. Dozens of policemen in the perimeter asked journalists present in the area to remain behind as they fanned out in the narrow alleys. Streets were deserted, with only a few residents watching from their windows as the troops made their advance. "We hope the pacification will not be just about ejecting the drug traffickers but also to bring sanitation, education, health," said community leader Raimundo Benicio de Souda, 4known as Lima. "There are people living (here) among cockroaches, urinating and defecating in a can," Lima told AFP, adding that for this reason "the pacification must have these people as a priority". William de Oliveira, president of the Favelas People's Movement, wearing a shirt with the inscription "I love Rocinha, said: "We want the people to be treated with dignity, respect, that those who have been involved in crimes be jailed but not assassinated" by police." Authorities estimate that about 200 criminals remained inside Rocinha following last week's capture of local drug kingpin Antonio Francisco Bonfim Lopes, also known as Nem. Nem was caught hidden in the trunk of a car, along with several accomplices and a few corrupt policemen who were protecting them. Nem was a model employee of a telecom company who "stumbled" into organised crime after getting a loan from a former Rocinha drug baron to pay for medical care for one of his daughters. To pay back his debts, he reportedly began dealing drugs and later took over as chief of the gang which controls Rocinha. The capture of Rocinha, the 19th favela to be pacified by police, recalled the huge operation launched by joint police and military forces to seize control of Rio's Alemao favela, home to 400,000 people in November 2010. Alemao was retaken after three days of clashes that left 37 people dead. Since Friday, heavily armed police had been besieging Rocinha, checking all cars going or leaving the area. Endemic and chronic urban violence has long tarnished the image of Rio, where more than 1.5 million people live in 1,000 slums spread throughout the city.

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