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Brazil's new government continues campaign to drive illegal miners out of Yanomami territory

Giovanni Torre -

Brazilian government forces are undertaking a mass operation to drive illegal gold miners out of a remote region of the Amazon rainforest, which belongs to the Yanomami indigenous nation.

Illegal mine operations flooded into the region under the administration of the notoriously racist former president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro.

Mr Bolsonaro is on the record making derogatory statements about Brazil's indigenous people and, on at least two occasions, praising the US Cavalry "who exterminated the Indians".

While president, Mr Bolsonaro presided over a massive surge in illegal mining and deforestation on indigenous lands.

In January the Indigenous Affairs Ministry, newly created by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and headed by Sonia Guajajara, the first indigenous woman to be a cabinet minister, found at least 570 children have died in Yanomani territory from poisoning and hunger.

News service Sumauma reported the children died of curable diseases, mainly malnutrition but also malaria, diarrhea and malformations caused by mercury used by gold miners.

Three weeks ago the government airlifted 16 members of the indigenous group out of the jungle to treat them for malnutrition.

President da Silva accused his predecessor, who also dismantled health services in Yanomani territory, of genocide and "a premeditated crime".

Brazil's federal police are now investigating to determine if the former Bolsonaro government could face charges of genocide.

This week the Brazilian government struck back hard, with government officials burning a plane and seized boats, weapons and petrol used by the miners on Yanomami country.

The raid, part of a broader move against an estimated 20,000 outlaw miners in the region, was a joint operation by Brazil's environmental protection agency, Ibama, the indigenous affairs department Funai, and special forces tasked with protecting the environment.

By destroying the plane and seizing boats, the government hops to sever the flow of vital supplies to the illegal mine operations.

In addition to illegal mining and logging, violence exploded in the Amazon region during the four years of the Bolsonaro presidency. The miners have been known to fire machine guns at indigenous villages when the people resist them.

Now, reports indicate many of the illegal mine workers are fleeing the region, some on foot.

Marcio Astrini of the Climate Observatory, a network of 72 climate NGOs, told the BBC it was important for the new government to find alternative employment opportunities for the mine workers themselves, many of whom are poor and ruthlessly exploited by the companies behind the operations.

"If nothing is done, if these people don't have alternative incomes. they will end up coming back to the areas from which they have been expelled, or they will invade mew ones," he said.

Brazil's Justice Minister Flávio Dino said the federal government was working on a plan to support the workers.

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