Police move to wrest control of Brazil's largest favela


Crack police forces launched a major assault early on Sunday to to wrest control of Rio's biggest favela from drug traffickers who had been in control for the past 30 years.

The long anticipated operation in a city that has one of the highest murder rates in the country is part of an official campaign since 2008 to restore security in Rio beforer the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, which Brazil will host.

Backed by navy armor and commandos, the troops punched their way into the shantytown that is home to 120,000 people.

Half-an hour after the start of operation 'Peace Shock', there were no reports of armed clashes with narcotraffickers.

Hundreds of special forces police and 200 navy commandos backed by armored vehicles and helicopters were involved in the operation. Police also moved into the neighboring Vidigal favela.

All access to the two favelas was blocked since 2:30 am (0430 GMT), according to televisions. The air space over the area was closed until Monday. Authorities estimate that around 200 drug traffickers are inside isnide Rocinha.

Rocinha, built on a steep hillside overlooking the 'Marvelous City' and located between two wealthy neighborhoods, would thus become the 19th favela to be cleared of traffickers.

Endemic and chronic urban violence has long tarnished the image of Rio, where more than 1.5 million people live in 1,000 slums spread throughout the city.

Antonio Bonfim Lopes - also known as 'Nem' and considered one of Rio's most wanted criminals - was caught in the area last week as police tightened their noose ahead of the assault on Rocinha.

Nem who was a model employee of a telecom company 'stumbled' into organized crime after getting a loan from a former Rocinha drug baron to pay for medical care for one of his daughters.

To pay back his debts, he reportedly began dealing drugs and later took over as chief of the gang which controls Rocinha. Also captured in a separate police operation were 14 people, including five policemen who were escorting five Nem lieutenants, notably his right-hand man known as 'Coelho'.

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