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Ecologist Who Fought to Stop Brazil’s Jungle Deforestation Slain by Gunmen

Associated Press

Gunmen in the Amazon ambushed and killed an internationally acclaimed ecologist who led the fight to save the jungle from deforestation, Brazilian police said Friday. The victim said two weeks ago that his life had been threatened.

The 44-year-old ecologist, Francisco Mendes, was shot Thursday night at his home in Xapuri, a remote western town near the Bolivian border, said Federal Police Chief Mauro Sposito.

Mendes was playing dominoes with friends and two police bodyguards when he went to take a shower in an outside stall, Sposito said in a telephone interview from Rio Branco, a city 105 miles from Xapuri and 2,658 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro.

Moments later, Mendes was shot once in the upper left chest with a rifle at point-blank range, the chief said. The killers fled before the bodyguards could leave the house, he said.

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Police made no arrests and said there were no definite suspects.

“There was no way to stop them (the killers),” Nilson Alves, a Xapuri police officer, told reporters by telephone. “It was starting to get dark, we only had one search lamp, and the jungle is pretty thick in these parts.”

Mendes was known worldwide for leading a campaign against destruction of the Amazon rain forest. He was a representative for the World Bank in Washington and other international lending institutions in Britain and West Germany and tried to stop loans to Brazil for development of the region.

Mendes said he received repeated death threats for organizing demonstrations against deforestation of the Amazon rain forest by cattle ranchers and was under local police protection.

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In June, 1987, he was honored by the United Nations for leading members of a local union of rubber tappers in a fight to preserve the Amazon jungle.

On Dec. 9, Mendes told a news conference in Rio de Janeiro he had received death threats from Darly and Alvarnho Alves, brothers and ranch owners who had past conflicts with the Rubber Tappers Union.


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