The Brazilian Army withdrew Monday, March 13, from several Rio de Janeiro favelas (shantytowns) after having failed in recovering sophisticated weapons stolen from the Armed Forces by drug dealers.
"We concluded the first phase. From now on we will have specific operations, not a general deployment, with the purpose of finding the weapons", said Colonel Fernando Lemos spokesperson for the operation.
The withdrawal of the 1.600 soldiers equipped for urban anti terrorist warfare who occupied the favelas for ten days was celebrated with shots fired to the air by drug dealers and the applause and booing of residents who complained about the Army's heavy hand.
The operation in ten of Rio's most notorious favelas was ordered following the theft from the Army's headquarter in Rio of several rifles and pistols. The Army on orders from a Military Judge moved in with infantry, armored vehicles and helicopters.
The Army has vowed to return as many times as necessary until the weapons are found because it has become a "question of honor".
During the ten days occupation soldiers were challenged by drug traffickers with some exchange of fire. The Army reported no losses but it's believed that several civilians were killed and wounded in the shootings.
The operation included blocking off several poor neighborhoods in an effort to quash drug dealing, a business that in some of the occupied areas rakes in as much as US$ 150 million per month, according to official estimates released by the Rio media.
The head of Public Safety for Rio de Janeiro state, Marcelo Itagipa said in an interview on CBN radio that the local slum dwellers' apparent rejection of military action can be attributed to "a well-armed minority that imposes its will".
The Army Central Transportation Base was attacked March 3 by seven masked individuals in military uniform who easily overcame soldiers on duty and took the weapons from a storage room.
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