Soldier Shot as Brazil Army Encircles Slums

November 20, 1994| From Times Wire Services

RIO DE JANEIRO — The army tightened its noose around Rio shantytowns Saturday in an attempt to choke the drug trade that has corrupted police and turned hillside slums into armed fortresses.

Residents of the Mangueira slum on Rio's poor north side woke up to see 500 soldiers had taken over the ghetto with tanks, armored cars and helicopters.

One soldier was injured when drug traffickers opened fire, an army spokesman said. The army did not shoot back, the Globo TV network reported.

Some soldiers, many of whom live in Rio's estimated 400 shantytowns, wore ski masks to avoid possible reprisals from cocaine and marijuana dealers and weapons smugglers.

The army seized four pistols, one grenade and three kilos of marijuana in Mangueira and arrested more than 52 people, most for not carrying identification, Globo reported.

Army helicopters covered several hundred troops that surrounded the Dende slum on Governor's Island, a middle-class district in Guanabara Bay near Rio's international airport.

The soldiers, equipped with assault rifles and grenades, arrested 15 people in the raid on the island, believed to be a main gateway for weapons smuggled in through the airport.

Gen. Zenildo Lucena, the army minister, has said the objective of Operation Rio is to "starve" the drug trade and clean up Rio's corrupt police forces.

President Itamar Franco sent the military into Rio three weeks ago after a series of drug-related killings, kidnapings and armored car robberies prompted a public outcry. Troops moved on Friday to surround five hilltop slums.

Police statistics show that 20 people are murdered daily in this city of 6 million. Some city morgue officials estimate the homicide rate could be twice as high.

As part of the crackdown, army intelligence agents infiltrated the state police to root out corruption. About 30 officers, including eight top officials, have quit in the last two weeks.

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