From: Reuters
Published January 24, 2008 07:12 PM

Brazil's army to help combat Amazon destruction

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil on Thursday unveiled measures to slow deforestation of the Amazon region including one that calls for the army to help carry out inspections.

The steps came one day after Brazilian officials said Amazon destruction had surged during the last five months of 2007. Deforestation rose from 94 square miles in August to 366 square miles in December.

"Our aim is to establish institutional mechanisms to prevent deforestation," Justice Minister Tarso Genro told reporters after an emergency meeting between Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his ministers.

The government also put on hold any new deforestation requests in 36 municipalities in an area that accounted for half of the forest destruction last year.

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Landowners in the area will have to prove they maintain preservation areas, and could face penalties like being denied official credit if they fail to meet some requirements.

Additionally, companies like trading houses, soybean crushers and meat processors that buy commodities originating from destroyed areas of the forest will be considered responsible for deforestation.

Environment Minister Marina Silva said the recent rise in commodity prices may have contributed to the stepped-up pace of deforestation.

"It's not a problem planting grains in Brazil because they can be planted in sustainable conditions. But you cannot deny that there was a rise in deforestation in the last months," Silva said.

"Something new is happening and new measures have to be taken," she added.

Agriculture Minister Reinhold Stephanes said he backed the government's actions but rejected arguments that a rise in planted areas was causing destruction of the Amazon region.

"From an agricultural point of view, there is no need to increase deforestation in order to boost soy and beef output in the country," Stephanes said.

From August to December last year, 1,250 square miles

of the Amazon forest, known as "the lungs of the world" for its ability to consume greenhouse gases and produce oxygen, were destroyed, according to the government.

This figure is expected to double when higher resolution satellite images are analyzed.

(Writing by Inae Riveras; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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