At least five suspected drug traffickers died Saturday in a shootout with police who were getting ready for this Sunday's occupation of two huge "favelas," or shantytowns, in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro controlled by drug trafficking gangs, officials said.
The shootout took place Saturday morning in Morro do Juramento, a favela on Rio de Janeiro's north side, where police went in answer to an anonymous tip about the arrival in the poor neighborhood of suspected drug traffickers thought to be fleeing from the favelas about to be occupied.
The case was handled directly by the state police's elite Special Operations Battalion, or BOPE, precisely the force planning Sunday's occupation of the Jacarezinho favela and the Manguinhos complex of poor neighborhoods.
BOPE agents arriving at Morro do Juramento around 4:00 a.m. local time (0700 GMT) this Saturday to check out the report were greeted with gunfire and found themselves in the midst of a shootout that ended with five dead, all identified as drug traffickers.
Police seized three handguns, one submachine gun and three grenades in the operation.
"We've been watching the movements of favela dwellers since Friday in line with the occupation we're preparing," the spokesman for BOPE, Maj. Ivan Blaz, said.
The official admitted that police had received a number of anonymous tips about drug traffickers from Jacarezinho and Manguinhos looking for refuge in neighborhoods still controlled by their allies.
These two massive favelas on Rio de Janeiro's north side are controlled by drug gangs, and in their plazas can normally be seen drugs being sold and consumed, especially crack, a viciously harmful cocaine derivative that has become a challenge to health authorities.
The Rio de Janeiro regional government plans to install in both favelas Police Pacification Units, or UPP, as the permanent stations are known whose mission is to recover areas previously dominated by organized crime.
The installation of UPPs is one element of the successful public security policy launched by the Rio de Janeiro government in 2008 to expel drug gangs from the city's favelas before the Olympic Games the city will host in 2016.
This policy, which has significantly reduced Rio's violence and crime rates, has been considered a model for other countries of the region by multilateral organizations.
Up to now police have installed their stations in 28 favelas and poor neighborhood complexes, including the Complexo do Alemao, which was the main stronghold of the Vermelho Command, the biggest criminal organization in Rio de Janeiro, and Rocinha, the largest favela in all Brazil.
Unlike previous operations when police announced the date for invading crime-ridden neighborhoods and were able to occupy them with little resistance because the drug traffickers had already fled, this time BOPE decided to carry out operations beforehand in favelas where the fleeing gunmen were likely to go. EFE