BRAZIL TARGETS ILLEGAL LOGGERS

More than 100 heavily armed Brazilian police special forces officers have arrived in the Amazonian town of Tailandia in one of the largest ever federal operations to curb illegal logging.

Operation Amazon Guardian is meant to "send a message" to the whole country, officials say.

Every logging operation in Tailandia, which many experts say is the centre of the Brazilian logging industry, is set to be inspected.

The move comes after environment ministry inspectors were last week forced to retreat from the town after being overpowered and surrounded by an angry crowd of 2,000 Tailandia residents - many of them workers in illegal logging mills.

The officials had been attempting to shut down illegal logging operations based in this city when the confrontation took place, forcing a retreat to the city of Belem, the capital of the state of Para, to re-group.

The incident was a major embarrassment to the government, which promised to launch a nationwide crackdown on illegal logging after a report released in January showed a sharp spike in deforestation in Brazil.

Logging town

Tailandia is a dusty, economically depressed place of about 65,000 people about four hours by car south of Belem.

It is home to about 70 different logging operations but it is believed only 22 have proper permits.

The rest are believed to be illegal but this cannot be verified until the inspectors are allowed back in with protection – a process which is scheduled to resume on Tuesday.

Tailandia is home to about 70 logging
operations, mostly illegal

More than 70 per cent of the town's residents make their living from Amazon logging and about 20,000 people could be left jobless if the government closes down the illegal logging operations.

The owner of one of the few hotels in town, who asked not to be identified, told Al Jazeera that once logging was shut down she would close her hotel, because there would be no more customers.

Tailandia is also a "reception point", where illegally felled trees are sent to be trucked or shipped to ports for resale so shutting down operations in here would affect illegal loggers throughout the region.

The federal police have expressed concerns about providing security in Tailandia, which is ranked the seventh most dangerous city in Brazil in government statistics.

There had previously been little police presence in Tailandia, so illegal loggers could act with impunity and one of the leading federal inspectors involved in the government operation to shut down illegal loggers received death threats as recently as this weekend.

Billion dollar industry...

RLCC: People have to be given other ways to live. There needs to be as much planting of trees as there is cutting of them. Forestry needs to be balanced and sustainable.

Originally from AL JAZEERA on February 27, 2008, 12:53am

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