Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 October 2019

Brazil rejects G7 aid offer as prosecutors say officials failed to act on fire warnings

Environment agency 'failed to act on information of fire day planned by demonstrators'

Brazil's government has rejected €22 million (Dh89m) in aid pledged by G7 summit members in Biarritz on Monday, despite fires across the Amazon continuing to rage.

The government gave no reason for rejecting the cash, offered at the end of the G7 summit by Canada, Japan, the US, France, Germany, the UK and Italy.

President Jair Bolsonaro said Brazil would only accept the offer if French leader Emmanuel Macron retracted comments that he found offensive.

Mr Bolsonaro on Tuesday said Mr Macron had called him a liar and he accused the French president of questioning Brazil’s sovereignty, amid tension over fires sweeping the Amazon region.

He said Mr Macron had to retract some of his comments, “and then we can speak".

Mr Bolsonaro's chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, earlier told the G1 news website that “maybe those resources are more relevant to reforest Europe”.

"Macron cannot even avoid a foreseeable fire in a church that is a world heritage site," Mr Lorenzoni said, referring to the Notre-Dame blaze in April. "What does he intend to teach our country?"

Almost 80,000 fires have been registered across Brazil this year so far, the highest number since at least 2013, space research agency INPE said.

Meanwhile, environmental officials and federal prosecutors say they warned the Brazilian government about the co-ordinated day of burning planned for August 10, but no action was taken.

The planned “fire day” demonstration by farmers and land grabbers took place near the town of Novo Progresso in northern Brazil.

But the Brazilian environment agency, Ibama, did not act until two days after the fires were started.

“It was a considerable failure,” prosecutor Paulo Moreira Oliveira told The Guardian. “There should have been immediate action to confront the risk of these fires.”

Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who oversees the police, said on Twitter that Mr Bolsonaro “asked for a rigorous investigation” into the matter and that “the criminal fires will be severely punished”.

Ibama says its lack of action was due to withdrawal of police protection for its workers, who face continuing threats in the region.

Local news media said the group organised the action over WhatsApp to show support for Mr Bolsonaro’s efforts to loosen environmental regulations.

Yet the leader of the local farmers' union in Novo Progresso denied there had been a plan for a fire day.

“We have no knowledge of this,” Agamenon Menezes told the Agencia Brasil news agency. "If there was anything like that, it was an isolated act."

Mr Bolsonaro's spokesman said on Monday that Chile and Ecuador offered aircraft to help combat the fires in the Amazon.

The president also tweeted on Monday that Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu would provide a firefighting plane.

Brazil is one of nine South American countries to share the Amazon rainforest.

Colombian President Ivan Duque said on Sunday that he would seek a conservation pact with other Amazonian countries, in bilateral meetings in Peru this week, then at the UN General Assembly.

"Colombia wants to lead a pact, a conservation pact, between the countries that have Amazon territory," Mr Duque said after meeting an indigenous community in the Amazonian city of Leticia in southern Colombia.

"We must understand the protection of our Mother Earth and our Amazon is a duty, a moral duty."

The Amazon is the world's largest tropical rainforest and is regarded as crucial to the fight against climate change because of the vast amounts of carbon dioxide it absorbs.

It provides 20 per cent of the planet's oxygen and is home to an estimated one million indigenous people from up to 500 tribes, and three million species of plants and animals including jaguars, sloths, giant otters, river dolphins, howler monkeys, toucans, reptiles, frogs and insects.

Updated: August 28, 2019 04:56 AM

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