BRAZIL- Brazilian police and environmental protection agents were ambushed by illegal gold miners in the Amazon rainforest, and four miners were killed in the gunfire exchange.
In a statement released on Monday, the Ministry of the Environment reported that an organised crime gang attacked its team the day before as they attempted to dismantle an illegal mining camp on the Yanomami reservation.
According to the ministry, Brazil’s federal police are investigating the incident, which occurred after an attack on Saturday that left one man dead and two others seriously injured.
In response to the violence, the Brazilian government earlier this year resumed raids to remove illegal miners from South America’s largest Indigenous reservation.
Indigenous leaders have called for more protection against illegal miners for years, accusing them of sowing violence in their communities.
In a report last year, the Hutukara Yanomami Association found that over 3272 hectares (8,085 acres) of the Yanomami reservation were affected by “garimpo,” or wildcat gold mining, the largest annual increase since monitoring began in 2018.
“In addition to deforesting our lands and destroying our waters, illegal mining for gold and cassiterite [a key tin ingredient] on Yanomami territory has brought an explosion of malaria and other infectious diseases … and a frightening surge of violence against Indigenous people,” the group said.
It is estimated that more than 20,000 miners lived on the Yanomami reservation, which stretches across the states of Roraima and Amazonas in the northern part of the Brazilian Amazon.
Jair Bolsonaro, the country’s former far-right president, promoted increased development in the Amazon while weakening the government’s environmental protection agencies.
A Yanomami group that numbers approximately 28,000 people claims Bolsonaro’s policies contributed to the increase in their threats.
About 80 percent of the gold miners who invaded the reservation have been evicted, and those who remain are resisting removal more violently, according to Indigenous Peoples Minister Sonia Guajajara.
As part of the operation to clear Yanomami territory, the Ministry of the Environment said 327 mining camps had been dismantled, while 18 planes, one helicopter, and dozens of boats had been destroyed.
In Brazil, Indigenous land is protected by the constitution and President Lula has pledged to zero tolerance for mining on such land.
Additionally, the Ministry of the Environment plans eviction operations on five other reservations where illegal logging and mining increased under Bolsonaro.