RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian soldiers and police exchanged gunfire with drug-gang members holed up in a massive slum complex Friday but stood their ground, trapping the traffickers inside.
About 800 troops are supporting a huge police offensive at the Alemao complex of shantytowns, an operation that came just a day after police took control of a nearby slum that also had been a gang stronghold.
Authorities are not publicizing their plans, but it appears an invasion of Alemao, one of Rios most dangerous slums, was imminent.
This is not the moment to circumvent risks but rather to confront risks, said Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, who traveled to Rio to meet with the states governor and top security officials.
Military spokesman Enio Zanan said soldiers had been taking fire from drug-gang members hiding in the large complex.
He earlier told The Associated Press the soldiers were not returning the fire, saying to do so would endanger innocent people in the community.
AP Television News video, however, showed at least one soldier firing on the slum, and the newspaper O Globo reported heavy exchanges of gunfire between troops and drug gang members.
Federal and state police officers, meanwhile, conducted door-to-door searches and patrols within the Vila Cruzeiro slum near Alemao.
The area was taken by officers Thursday afternoon during a five-hour operation using armored vehicles and assault rifles.
After police armored cars had their tires blown out by gangs or were stymied by burning tires, police relied on military armored personnel carriers equipped with caterpillar treads to roll over or push aside barriers and enter the fortified shantytown.
Officials trumpeted their victory Friday, hailing it as a sign of a new Rio.
The governor of Rio state, Sergio Cabral, said the moment was historic – for proving that no part of Rio was beyond the reach of the law, and for the unprecedented cooperation of the armed forces with police to bring peace to Rio, whose name has long evoked the violence of its lawless shantytowns.