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Friday, March 20, 1998 Published at 12:32 GMT

World: Americas

Governor appeals to save Amazon
image: [ An area the size of Belgium has been damaged by fire ]
An area the size of Belgium has been damaged by fire

The governor of the north Brazilian state of Roraima, Mr Neudo Campos, has re-doubled his appeals for more money to fight the fires that have devastated vast tracts of Amazon forest.

President Fernando Henrique Cardoso's spokesman, Sergio Amaral: "It should be raining." (0' 38")
Mr Campos said that after burning unchecked across the most northerly and sparsely populated Brazilian state for more than two months, the fires had advanced.

The blaze, which now has a 400km front, is penetrating virgin rainforest and threatening reservations belonging to the Yanomami Indians - among Brazil's most isolated and endangered tribes.

[ image: A Yanomami Indian family home near the edge of the fires]
A Yanomami Indian family home near the edge of the fires
Most of the affected areas are on the edge of the Amazon jungle where there are farms and plantations belonging to smallholders and peasants.

About 15,000 families are believed to have lost their crops and livelihoods.

But some Yanomami villages have been completely destroyed. Others are said to be trapped, isolated in remote areas accessible only by air.

Juan Anton Tubai of Medicins sans Frontieres: "The layer of smoke is 6,000 feet above the trees." (1' 08")
Roraima, which covers an area the size of Britain, has just eleven fire engines to tackle the blaze.

A BBC correspondent in the Amazon says officials hope to double the number of firefighters to 1,000 by next week.

Argentina is to send in about 100 firefighters, and Venezuela is drawing up a contingency plan as the flames reach within 50km of its southern border.

[ image: The fires are unlikely to die down until it rains]
The fires are unlikely to die down until it rains
The fires, caused by a severe drought related to the El Nino phenomenon, have been exacerbated by local farmers using traditional cut and burn techniques to clear their land.

Territory the size of Belgium is charred and ruined and scientists say only seasonal rains next month can now stop the destruction.

Some have criticised the government's efforts saying that too little has been done too late.

President Fernando Henrique Cardoso's spokesman, Sergio Amaral, was quick to deny this charge.

"There are limits to what we can do," he said, suggesting that the fires are on the scale of an act of God.

Correspondents say the federal government is unwilling to give aid to the sparsely-populated north in what is an election year in Brazil.

Guyana appeals for help to fight forest fires

Forest fires are also burning out of control in the neighbouring country of Guyana, where the government is also appealing for international aid to fight the blazes.

The Guyanese authorities say in particular they need airborne fire-fighting equipment.

An excessively long dry period has led to fires south and west of the capital, Georgetown, threatening people living in savannah and forest areas.

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