Sun, Nov 28, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Police, soldiers trade fire with gunmen in Rio slum

DIFFERING ACCOUNTS:A military spokesman said the army was not firing into a residential area housing drug gangs, but TV footage seemed to indicate otherwise

AP, RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL

Brazilian soldiers and police exchanged gunfire with drug-gang members holed up in a massive slum complex on Friday, but stood their ground, trapping the traffickers inside.

About 800 troops are supporting a huge police offensive at the Alemao complex of shantytowns, an operation that came just a day after police took control of a nearby slum that also had been a gang stronghold.

Authorities are not publicizing their plans, but it appears an invasion of Alemao, one of Rio’s most dangerous slums, was imminent.

“This is not the moment to circumvent risks, but rather to confront risks,” said Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, who traveled to Rio to meet with the state’s governor and top security officials.

Military spokesman Enio Zanan said soldiers had been taking fire from drug-gang members hiding in the large complex.

He earlier told reporters the troops were not returning the fire, saying it would endanger “innocent people in the community.”

However, AP Television News video showed at least one soldier firing on the slum, and the newspaper O Globo reported heavy exchanges of gunfire between troops and drug gang members.

Zanan did not return calls for comment on Friday night. A man who answered the phone at the army’s western Rio headquarters said he could not confirm the -involvement of troops in the fighting.

Zanan earlier said the confrontation had no set time or date to end and the troops were ready to stand constant guard as long as needed.

Among those wounded on Friday was the chief Brazil photographer for the Reuters news agency, Paulo Whitaker.

Reuters said he suffered a non-life-threatening bullet wound in the shoulder. The source of the shot was not immediately clear.

Federal and state police officers, meanwhile, conducted door-to-door searches and patrols within the Vila Cruzeiro slum near Alemao. The area was taken by officers on Thursday afternoon during a five-hour operation using armored vehicles and assault rifles.

After police armored cars had their tires blown out by gangs or were stymied by burning tires, police relied on military armored personnel carriers equipped with caterpillar treads to roll over them.

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