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Brazil sees Amazon rainforest international security hub launch this year

By Ricardo Brito

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil is preparing to launch a center for international police cooperation to combat environmental crimes and drug trafficking in the Amazon rainforest by the end of 2023, Federal Police officials told Reuters.

The center, agreed upon at the summit of Amazon nations in August, will bring together police authorities from the eight countries of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO).

Uniting the Amazon countries against criminal activity in the world's largest rainforest is key to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's effort to restore Brazil's environmental credentials after four years of soaring deforestation under predecessor Jair Bolsonaro.

Implementing the initiative will cost the Brazilian government 9 million reais ($1.83 million), and its annual budget will be 7 million reais, said Valdecy Urquiza, head of the Federal Police's international cooperation directorate.

The center will guarantee coordinated action by police in the Amazon countries with "much more efficient results" to combat a series of crimes, such as deforestation and the smuggling of gold, timber and wild animals.

"We expect to see a significant reduction in environmental crimes in the area and also action involving the entire Amazon region and not just a few isolated countries," Urquiza said.

The fight against drug trafficking will also be one of the center's focuses, providing authorities with intelligence for cross-border investigations, said Humberto Freire, head of the Amazon and environmental crimes of the Federal Police.

"There's no point in operating only in Brazil," he said, adding that criminals in the region move around the countries of the rainforest to evade authorities.

Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela will also have representatives in the center, which plans to start operations by December.

Urquiza said the unit could also support efforts by European and U.S. authorities, as those are the main destinations for illegal goods and products from the Amazon.

"As long as there is a consumer market for this illegal material, there will be pressure for this type of crime here in the region," said Urquiza.

Police organizations such as Interpol, Europol and Ameripol will also be invited to join the center, Freire said.

($1 = 4.9134 reais)

(Reporting by Ricardo Brito; Writing by Peter Frontini; editing by Timothy Gardner)