RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) – The Brazilian army will take on peacekeeping duties in the Rio slums where police conducted a bloody crackdown on drug gangs last month, Defense Minister Nelson Jobin said Saturday.
Drawing from its experience as head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) since 2004, this will be Brazil’s first peacekeeping mission within its own borders.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has approved the peacekeeping mission requested by Rio de Janeiro State for the northern slum districts of Alemao and Penha, Rio Governor Sergio Cabral said after he met with both officials.
The slum districts include the Vila Cruzeiro favela that the police took over a week ago after battling heavily armed criminals in warrens of narrow, twisting alleyways.
Launched on November 21, the unprecedented police-military sweep, meant to clean up the city’s image before it hosts the 2014 Soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, left 37 people dead and led to 118 arrests and 518 weapons seizures.
To prevent criminal gangs from coming back in after police leave, Lula approved a request for hundreds of soldiers to remain in the Compexo do Alemao for the time being.
Jobin said that while the army lent logistical support to the local police force during the crackdown, it would now become “a peacekeeping force under military command” that will be tasked with patrolling the favelas with authority to detain people.
He said the Rio police force would be in charge of searches and formal arrests.
Officials said the duration of the army’s peacekeeping mission would depend on future developments. Rio state authorities initially requested the mission to last seven months.