Police launch takeover operation in three of Rio's notorious favelas

Authorities regain control of dangerous quarters in south of the city ahead of World Cup and Olympic Games

In what looked like a scene from a Hollywood movie, Brazilian top elite forces fanned out Sunday across Rio de Janeiro's most violent shantytowns, taking over the crime-plagued neighborhoods but without firing so much as one shot.

Military, federal and civil police took part in the surprise operation - the largest favela takeover operation in Brazil's history - using battle tanks and helicopters, which invaded the crowded hilly shantytowns before dawn. Snipers were put into position in case the residents resisted as 3,000 law enforcement officers took over the favelas of Rocinha, Vidigal and Chácara do Céu, encrusted in between some of Rio's wealthiest neighborhoods.

An EL PAÍS reporter, who accompanied the military police's Special Battalion Operations (BOPE) unit, witnessed how officers broke into a sporting complex in search of drugs and weapons stashed by traffickers. The unit was accompanied by a cooperating witness, known in the drug underworld as an "X9."

Authorities have now regained control of some of Rio de Janeiro's most dangerous quarters in the south of the city - precisely the areas where the avalanche of tourists will converge for the 2014 World Cup and the Olympic games two years later.

Just days before the occupation, Brazilian police captured one of the country's most notorious drug traffickers, Antonio Francisco Lopes Bonfim, known as "Nem." The arrest, according to authorities, sent members of his organization and other criminals on the run.

During the raid, police also searched the hideout of Sandro Luiz de Paula Amorim, alias "Peixe," one of the biggest traffickers in Rocinha and former leader of the São Carlos favela, who was arrested last Thursday. EL PAÍS was able to enter the hideout - a luxurious three-story dwelling but with bizarre decorations, including a Jacuzzi inside the main bedroom, a swimming pool on the balcony and small gym.

Authorities said they will continue to patrol the areas for the next few days searching for other traffickers and organized-crime leaders. When asked by EL PAÍS, the residents said they don't expect great changes in the neighborhood and that they didn't live too badly under "Nem."

O Globo newspaper reported Tuesday that complaints by residents in the first two weeks of November have helped police find weapons and drugs in Rocinha and Vidigal. The complaints number 700 - 30 times more than during the same period last year, the Rio daily reported.

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