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Brazil ousts almost all illegal gold miners from Yanomami Indigenous region

Brazil has ousted almost
all illegal gold miners from the Yanomami territory, its largest Indigenous reservation, and will remove miners from six more
reserves this year, the head of the federal police’s new
environmental crimes division said.

Police are setting up new Amazon bases and seeking
international cooperation on law enforcement in the region,
including the development of radio-isotope technology to prove
the illegal origin of seized gold, Humberto Freire told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday.

Freire is the director of the newly created environment and
Amazon department of the federal police, marking what he called
a new era in the battle against environmental crime and in defence of Indigenous people in the rainforest. 

Adding to the urgency in the early months of President Luiz
Inacio Lula da Silva’s term, the government in January declared
a humanitarian crisis in Yanomami territory.

The territory had
been invaded by thousands of gold miners threatening communities
with firearms, spreading malaria, polluting rivers and scaring
off wild game, which led to malnutrition and hundreds of deaths.

“We still have some pockets of miners who are holding out by
hiding in some areas, so we going through the Yanomami territory
with a fine comb,” Freire said in an interview.

Enforcement operations supported by satellite imagery and
aerial photography have destroyed 250 miner camps — many of
which were already deserted — and 70 dredging rafts, along with
speed boats and planes, he said.

Police have seized some 4,500 litres of fuel and 1.2 kilogrammes of gold, he added.

Police encountered and then released at least 805 miners and
94 boats on rivers, but most fled before the eviction operation.

The police did not focus on arresting miners, Freire said,
instead seizing or blocking $13 million of
resources belonging to those accused of financing the illegal
miners, while dismantling a prostitution network that took
underage girls to the mining camps.

Brazil launches military operation to protect Indigenous Yanomami

85 percent of gold miners out

Junior Hekurari, head of the local Indigenous health
council, estimated that 85 percent of the gold miners had left or been
forced out of the reservation the size of Portugal, which
extends along Brazil’s northern border with Venezuela.

Two months after the government declared the state of emergency, Hekurari told Reuters that the government response
is still short of staffing and helicopters to confront the scale
of the health emergency among the Yanomami.

The Brazilian government is also studying new laws to stamp
out illegal gold mining, which accounts for roughly half of
Brazilian gold the country exports to nations, including
Switzerland and Britain.

One proposal aimed at cracking down on
laundered gold would require electronic tax receipts for the
buying and selling of the precious metal.

Police have also embraced a technology using radio isotopes
to identify where gold is mined, even after it has been melted
into bars, Freire said. His staff hope to have the main gold-producing areas of Brazil mapped out by the end of this year.

Freire said Brazil is also preparing an international police
base for the Amazon with neighbouring countries.

They also plan to inaugurate on Thursday a floating police
station in Atalaia do Norte, on the river where British
journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian Indigenous expert Bruno
Pereira were murdered last year by fishermen.

READ MORE: Brazil official seeks eviction of armed gold miners from Yanomami region

READ MORE: Dozens of Yanomami children hospitalised in Brazil

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