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RAIN FOREST Leader vows to capture nun killers



Published: Tue, February 22, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The president says he will establish order in the forest.

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) -- Brazil's president promised Monday that federal authorities would capture the remaining suspects in the killing of an American nun who died trying to protect the Amazon rain forest and peasants living there.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva spoke a day after a second suspect was taken into custody in the killing of 73-year-old Dorothy Stang. The native of Dayton, Ohio, was shot to death Feb. 12 in the lawless Amazon state of Para, where conflicts are common among peasants, loggers, land speculators and ranchers.

"It's repulsive that people think the solution to a conflict is a .38-caliber revolver, as serious as the situation might be," Silva said on his biweekly radio show. "We're not going to rest until we catch these murderers."

Silva also said Brazil's government would establish order in the world's largest wilderness, which sprawls over 1.6 million square miles.

"We will show clearly that, in our government, there is no impunity, that the Amazon is ours and we will take control of our territory," Silva said.

Captured suspect

The suspect taken into custody Sunday, Rayfran das Neves Sales, is accused of being one of the two gunmen who killed Stang with six shots in a settlement near the rural town of Anapu, about 870 miles north of Brasilia, police said.

A military patrol that is part of a 2,000-soldier contingent sent to the area after Stang's death received a tip that Sales was hiding in thick forest near the Trans-Amazon highway.

He was being held in Anapu pending transfer for questioning Monday to the city of Altamira, about 80 miles away, Police Chief Luiz Fernandes said by telephone from Altamira.

The first suspect detained, Amair Freijoli da Cunha, is accused of hiring the gunmen, although he has denied any involvement. He was charged Sunday with conspiracy to murder.

Authorities are still searching for a second gunman and a rancher suspected of ordering the killing.

"Two down, two to go," Fernandes said.

Stang, a naturalized Brazilian, spent the last two decades of her life living in Para, trying to protect the rain forest and peasants from loggers and ranchers vying for the area's rich natural resources.

Responding to the international outcry over her killing, Silva put nearly 19,900 square miles of Amazon land under federal environmental protection and suspended logging in some hotly disputed areas.

He admitted that tighter government controls in the Amazon have touched a nerve.

"These things have bothered some reactionaries, some conservatives in the logging industry," Silva said. "Just as the state grants concessions to exploit gas, to exploit water, to develop petroleum, we must have the authority to grant a concession for a logger to cut down a tree."

The forest

Rich Amazon stands of hardwoods -- mahogany, ipe and massaranduba -- are coveted by loggers, who often cut the timber illegally.

Brazil is under added pressure to preserve its rain forest with the recent enactment of the Kyoto global warming pact, which requires 35 industrialized states to cut emissions of "greenhouse gases" blamed for rising world temperatures.

The Amazon forest is essential to the success of the pact, because the vast wilderness absorbs carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, and produces oxygen.

"The forest is an asset of mankind, an asset of Brazil -- now more than ever, with the approval of the Kyoto Protocol," Silva said. "So we will not back down."




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