More than 500 police and soldiers have been sent to the state of Roraima (north), where the Yanomami reserve, the largest in Brazil, is located for an operation to dislodge gold miners which should begin this week, according to the minister of Justice Flavio Dino.

In this vast territory like Portugal, where some 30,000 indigenous people live in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, illegal gold mines are synonymous with violence, pollution and disease.

Many serious cases of undernutrition have been identified and several hundred children have been treated in an air force field hospital set up in Boa Vista, capital of Roraima.

Authorities estimate that more than 15,000 miners have invaded what are supposed to be inviolable lands, and the natives accuse them of raping and killing members of their community, while depriving them of one of their main means of subsistence, fishing, by polluting mercury rivers.

The Minister of Justice assured that several thousand of these invaders had started to flee in recent days, after the start of operations of the Air Force in the reserve last week.

The airspace has been completely closed in certain areas, depriving the artisanal miners of one of their only sources of supply.

"We prefer that they leave on their own, without conflict, but that does not mean that they will remain unpunished", assured Mr. Dino during a press conference Monday in Brasilia.

"All those who have committed crimes of genocide, environmental crimes, those who have financed illegal gold panning or laundered money" with this activity, will be prosecuted, he insisted.


Brazilian media have shown images of miners in large numbers leaving the reserve in recent days, some ready to walk 30 days in the jungle.

Others try to flee by river, in overloaded boats.

The Ministry of Indigenous Peoples said on Monday it had received preliminary information that three indigenous people who only recently had their first contact with the outside world had been killed by gold diggers.

Brazilian police opened an investigation for "genocide" last month after the publication of official data reporting the deaths in 2022 of a hundred children under the age of five in Yanomami territory.

Illegal gold panning has increased sharply under the mandate of the far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro (2019-2022), favorable to the authorization of mining activities in indigenous reserves.

© 2023 AFP