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Four illegal gold miners have been fatally shot in indigenous territory in the Amazon rainforest following an ambush by Brazilian police and environmental protection agents.

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change confirmed in a statement on Monday that the miners had died in a “confrontation with agents” in the Yanomami reservation. The ambush took place on Monday following an alleged attack on an indigenous community by miners on Sunday.

The Ministry states that the attack is currently being investigated by federal police. Three Yanomami people aged 36, 31 and 24 were shot in the attack. The eldest, an indigenous healthcare worker, died immediately after being shot, while the younger two are recovering in hospital.

According to the Brazilian Government, this is the fourth attack against local communities since the beginning of the eviction of miners from Yanomami territory on 6 February.

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva recently resumed raids in the Amazon to remove illegal gold miners as part of a wider crackdown on the practice. “This barbarity will not go unanswered,” Brazil’s Human Rights Minister, Silvio Almeida, said in a tweet following Monday’s violence.

The government believes that the mine may have been run by the criminal organisation First Capital Command (PCC), one of South America’s most powerful mafia groups. The miners were heavily armed and 11 weapons were seized.

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According to the Minister of Indigenous People Sonia Guajajara, around 80% of the illegal miners operating in the Yanomami reservation before the new rules were put in place have been evicted. Community members have said that President Lula’s crackdown has increased threats against them.

Illegal gold mining in the Amazon

Illegal gold mining, also known as wildcat mining, was encouraged by President Jair Bolsonaro during his term as a means of gaining greater economic wealth from the rainforest. The practice infringes on the rights of local indigenous groups and exposes them to new diseases.

Earlier this year, Lula’s government declared a medical emergency after miners were held responsible for growing levels of malaria and mercury poisoning among the region’s indigenous communities.

President Lula has vowed to crack down on mining without authorisation, money laundering and usurping property without legal authorisation.

At the beginning of April, Brazil’s Supreme Court granted an injunction to introduce new regulations to reduce illegal gold mining, giving the government 90 days to draw up a new framework.

During the Bolsonaro administration, the number of children who died from preventable causes in the remote Yanomami Indigenous Territory increased by 29%. Local rights publication Sumauma attributes this to the presence of illegal miners.