Four thousand military policemen have taken to the streets of Rio and Greater Rio this Monday following a bloody weekend when at leastÂ 21 people were killed during a battle between the police and two drug-trafficking gangs fighting for drug-selling spots in the Morro dos Macacos (Monkeys Hill) favela (shantytown).
All Rio's Military Police battalions are in alert an at the ready. On Saturday, a police helicopter was shot down by drug traffickers killing three military policemen. Also eight buses were set afire in the Jacarezinho and Mangueira neighborhoods, apparently to distract the authorities.
The police were back to Morro dos Macacos this morning after receiving tips that some gang members who had invaded the favela were still hiding there. The information was given by colonel Fernando Principe, commander of the 6th Military Police Battalion from Tijuca.
The police, using dogs and heavy weapons, are active in several Rio communities. According to major Oderlei Santos, the PM's press secretary, the operation's goal is to hunt and arrest gang members who directly or indirectly took part in the violence of early Saturday morning when gunmen from Morro São João tried to take over drug-selling locations at Morro dos Macacos in the Vila Isabel neighborhood, in the northern side of Rio.
Military policemen from the Bope (Special Operation Battalion) exchanged fire with drug traffickers from Manguinhos complex. Officer searched for weapons and ammunition in the favelas of Nova Holanda, Parque União and Madela. The traffic of vehicles was interrupted in the area for close to three hours and bus lines were using different routes.
In Chatuba's slum, in Mesquita, in the Baixada Fluminense, the police found two .30mm anti-aircraft machine guns, two caliber 12 carbines, an URU machine gun, more than 3,000 bullets, 500 cocaine baggies and 500 bundles of marijuana as well as a samurai sword.
They also found three bulletproof vests, two gas cylinders and eight uniforms similar to those worn by the Bope, plus and ax and a grenade. Nobody was arrested. Apparently, all this material was brought Sunday to Chatuba by the Comando Vermelho (Red Command) gang in order to hide it from the police. There was no arrest.
According to the police, the leaders of this logistics operation are the drug traffickers known as PL, Juninho Cagão (Little Shitter June) and Pará, being Cagão the responsible for the guns transfer from Jacarezinho to Chatuba.
Students from the Don Hélder Municipal School were released earlier for fear that a confrontation between police and drug traffickers would put the students' and teachers' life at risk.
The third policeman who was inside the helicopter knocked down Saturday died today. Izo Gomes Patrício was a corporal and had been admitted to the Air Force hospital with severe burns, in serious condition. The helicopter was hit several times and tried to land in a soccer field nearby, but it exploded right after hitting the ground.
The aircraft was giving support to an operation by 120 military policemen who were trying to put and end to the confrontation between drug traffickers.
Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva vowed to contribute with 100 million reais (US$ 59 million) to outfit Rio de Janeiro's police after the weekend battle, informed Rio de Janeiro state's governor Sérgio Cabral.
Cabral told reporters that he had received a call from president Lula. Part of the money, the governor said, will be used to buy an armored helicopter. The chopper downed during the weekend had armor-plating only in the lower fuselage.
"I got a call from president Lula offering support and confirming the release of resources for this helicopter. These are resources amounting to more than 100 million reais in the next six months."
Lula has now promised to fight drug traffickers after a bloody war in Rio's favelas just two weeks after the city won the right to host the 2016 Olympic games.
Said the president: "We'll do anything it takes and make all the necessary sacrificesÂ in order toÂ clean up the mess that these people areÂ inflicting on Brazil."