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Hundreds of rafts dredging Brazil river as environmentalists urge halt to gold rush

Rafts operated by illegal miners have gathered on the Madeira River to dredge for gold, as authorities dispute over who should stop them.

The rafts are equipped with pumps and have moored together in lines that almost stretch across the river.

Plumes of exhaust fumes have been spotted, indicating the boats are vacuuming the riverbed for gold.

“We counted no less than 300 rafts. They’ve been there at least two weeks and the government has done nothing,” said Greenpeace Brazil activist Danicley Aguiar.

The gold rush started as world leaders met in Glasgow for the United Nation’s climate conference, COP26 – where Brazil pledged to step up its protection of the Amazon rainforest.

But far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who was a no-show in Glasgow, has weakened Brazil’s environmental office since taking office in 2019, ignoring invasions of protected public and indigenous lands by illegal loggers, cattle ranchers and gold miners.

The Madeira River flows some 2,000 miles (3,300km) from its source in Bolivia through the Amazon in Brazil and into the Amazon river.

The dredging rafts floated downriver from the Humaita area, where there has been a rise in illegal gold mining.

They were last seen some 400 miles (650km) away in Autazes, a municipal district in southeast Manaus, Brazil.

A spokesperson for Brazil’s environmental protection agency Ibama said the illegal dredging on the Madeira river was the responsibility of Amazonas state and its environmental agency Instituto de Protecao Ambiental do Amazonas (IPAAM) and not the federal government.

The head of IPAAM, Juliano Valente, said his agency has instructed state security forces to act, but insisted the river falls under federal jurisdiction and enforcement should fall be run by the federal police and the National Mining Agency (ANM).

Federal police and the ANM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“It’s a free-for-all. None of the authorities are doing anything to stop illegal mining, which has become a epidemic in the Amazon,” Mr Aguiar said.

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