Armed police clear drug gangs from Rio favela

Police searched homes and secured the perimeter yesterday of a Rio de Janeiro shantytown that has long been a stronghold for drug gangs and a symbol of their ability to rule vast areas of the seaside city with impunity.

About 80 federal police officers joined state police in door-to-door searches in the Vila Cruzeiro slum as 800 military troops, trained in surrounding and isolating conflict areas, stood ready in their headquarters, 12 miles away, to back them up.

The area had been taken by law enforcement just hours before during a five-hour operation using armoured vehicles and assault rifles.

After bullet-proof vehicles had their tyres blown out by gangs or were stymied by burning tyres, police relied on armoured personnel carriers equipped with caterpillar treads to roll over or push aside barriers and enter the fortified favela.

Officials trumpeted their victory Friday, hailing it as a sign of a new Rio. "If I am here telling you this area will be pacified, it's a sign things have changed," said Roberto Sa, deputy public safety secretary for Rio state.

"The challenge is still significant, but we have a goal, and we're not giving back a single millimetre."

Slum residents, streaming out down steep, narrow alleys to jobs in the city below, had mixed reactions as officers approached them. Some ran away, and others stayed to welcome them and co-operate by showing their identification. Marcilio Alves, whose son and ex-wife live in Vila Cruzeiro, said people were trying get back to their routines yesterday.