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Wednesday, 25 March, 1998, 00:39 GMT
UN helps fight Amazon fires
Huge tracts of land across northern Brazil are affected
Huge tracts of land across northern Brazil are affected
Brazil has accepted an offer of help from the United Nations to combat forest fires which have been sweeping through the Amazon jungle for the past two months.

The UN will provide technical assistance and raise funds, as well as asking for technical aid from other countries.

The Brazilian authorities are examining how aid from various sources, including the UN, can best be included in a co-ordinated fire-fighting programme.

Brazil's federal government has been criticised for its response to the crisis in its northern state of Roraima.

On Friday the environmentalist organisation Friends of the Earth quoted a UN official in Geneva as saying that its offer to send specialist equipment and personnel to the Amazon region had been ignored.

The Brazilian Government denies it is in any way reluctant to accept such assistance.

The fires threaten Indian communities
The fires threaten Indian communities
It points to the fact that neighbouring Argentina and Venezuela already have troops and helicopters operating in the region. It says it is still in the process of working out how to co-ordinate further international aid.

There is no shortage of offers. The UN, the United States and the European Union say they are willing to send aircraft and equipment. Germany is offering medical aid.

The authorities have succeeded in controlling the blaze in a small number of areas. But the great majority of the fires burn on, fanned by strong winds.

The state government said one big blaze was put out in Apiau, a farming community on the fringes of the rainforest 120 km (75 miles) west of state capital Boa Vista.

Smoke billows across roads
Smoke billows across roads
But 1,000 other fires were believed to be burning in the Apiau area, one of the worst hit by the flames.

Fires started by slash-and-burn farmers and fuelled by high winds and dry conditions caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon have burned out of control in Brazil's northern Amazon for two months, sweeping across grasslands and rain forest.

Despite the air assault and reinforced ground fire crews, experts say the fires are likely to burn until the rainy season begins in the northern Amazon in late April.

See also:

15 Mar 98 | Americas
Amazon fires rage on
25 Mar 98 | Americas
UN helps fight Amazon fires
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