Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil targets Amazon gold miners in Yanomami reserve

Brazilian helicopter in the Amazon
Image caption The huge scale of the Amazon makes it hard for the authorities to control

Brazilian police have carried out a big operation against illegal gold miners in the Amazon, arresting at least 26 people.

Gold, mining equipment and several aircraft used to take men and supplies into the remote region were seized.

Police said the miners were causing grave environmental damage in the Yanomami indigenous reserve, near Brazil's border with Venezuela.

The Yanomami have long complained of miners invading their lands.

Five criminal groups involved in illegal gold mining were identified during a year-long investigation in Roraima state, the Federal Police said.

The miners were using powerful pumps mounted on barges to dredge material from the bottom of the river and blast the river banks.

The environmental impact was worsened by the use of highly-toxic mercury to separate gold from the river silt.

Among those arrested are pilots, engineers and businessmen accused of funding the mining operations and selling the gold in the city of Boa Vista.

"The focus of the operation was to target the economic motor of illegal mining, which is to say the financiers and the planes used to invade indigenous lands," police superintendent Alexandre Silva Saraiva told O Globo newspaper.

Around 20,000 Yanomami live in relative isolation in the indigenous reserve, which covers nearly 100,000 square km (38,610 square miles) of rainforest along the Venezuelan border.

The tribe has been resisting encroachment by gold miners for decades, accusing them of destroying the rainforest and introducing diseases.

In recent years the soaring price of gold on world markets has driven a surge in unlicensed gold-mining in many parts of the Amazon.

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