Brazil's Lula demands faster action against organized crime in the Amazon

Experts boost Amazon monitoring as annual burning season picks up

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Monday urged his government to speed up actions in the Amazon to combat organized crime that has contributed to destruction of the world's largest tropical rainforest.

Lula complained that it had taken a year for a security plan for the Amazon, known as AMAS, to get off the ground, and said there was still much to be done to set up an international police center in Manaus.

"We need to speed up the process, because my term is only four years. If we cannot execute this plan, someone else will come along and do nothing," he said at an event sealing the transfer of 318 million reais ($58.6 million) to fund the security plan.

The resources come from the $1.3 billion Amazon Fund originally set up by Norway to back sustainability and stop illegal deforestation in the Amazon.

The fund, managed by Brazil's National Development Bank (BNDES) has been supported by donations from Germany, Britain, Denmark, the European Union and the U.S. The Amazon security plan is the first project sponsored by the Fund aimed at combating environmental crimes in the vast region.

The eight countries of the Amazon Basin will join forces in the International Police Cooperation Center in Manaus, which plans to gather intelligence and coordinate enforcement with the use of helicopters, river patrol boats and 34 bases to be established across the Amazon.

The center was initially scheduled to begin operating in the first half of this year.

The rainforest has faced systematic destruction from illegal logging and gold mining, and criminal gangs use it as a conduit for drug trafficking and the smuggling of tropical animals.

A government statement said Federal Police efforts to improve the tracing of gold to illegal wildcat prospects will help crackdown on a booming trade in the precious metal that is increasingly smuggled out of Brazil to countries such as Switzerland, Britain, Turkey and the United States.

Brazil has made progress in slowing deforestation in the Amazon since Lula became president last year and sought to restore his country's leading role in global efforts on climate change. In his first year in office, deforestation in Brazil's Amazon declined by 50% to a five-year low.

(Reporting by Ricardo Brito and Anthony Boadle; Editing by David Gregorio)