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Police move into violent Rio slum, taking over from army

April 1, 2015

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Brazilian army began to pull out of one of Rio de Janeiro’s most violent slums on Wednesday, with police assuming responsibility for security in the area.

The transition took place in two of the 16 shantytowns that make up the vast Mare complex, which is near Rio’s international airport and is sandwiched between three of the city’s principal expressways. Heavily armed officers from an elite battalion moved into the slums under the gaze of the news media.

The army moved into Mare one year ago as part of a pacification program meant to push out the brutal drug trafficking gangs that ruled the shantytowns for decades.

The program is seen as key to bringing security to notoriously violent Rio before the city hosts the 2016 Olympics, but it has come under heated criticism in recent months. Residents of some so-called “pacified” slums have alleged police brutality and there also have been several highly publicized cases of officers killing unarmed residents.

With different areas dominated by different gang factions, as well as a militia group, Mare has continued to suffer frequent fire-fights and other violence, despite the army presence.

“Even the army, which completed a year here, has faced a series of challenges,” police spokesman Col. Frederico Caldas told reporters on hand for Wednesday’s transition. “We cannot have people wishing for this (pacification process) to fail, because everyone will go down. If this doesn’t work, everyone will go down, the police, society, we will all go down together.”

The slums occupied Wednesday are considered among the safest in the Mare.

The police are to gradually replace the army in all 16 of the Mare complex’s slums.

Update hourly