September 6, 2019 / 6:10 PM / 15 days ago

Amazon countries to seek deal on forest protection at Colombia summit

LETICIA, Colombia, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Leaders from Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana and Peru and Suriname have begun discussion of possible regional measures to protect the Amazon at a Friday summit, amid recent fires which burned thousands of square miles of the world’s largest tropical forest.

The presidents of Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, the vice-president of Suriname and the natural resource minister of Guyana are attending the one-day summit in the jungle city of Leticia in southern Colombia. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will participate by video link.

The group will discuss implementing a satellite system meant to alert them to fires, how to coordinate a joint response to future fires and more funding from both the attending countries and the international community, Colombia’s Environment Minister Ricardo Lozano said ahead of the conference.

“We are here to coordinate our actions, to work hand-in-hand to protect our Amazon,” Colombian President Ivan Duque said in his opening remarks. “This meeting is for us to reaffirm a pact for conservation, for the protection of this wealth.”

Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno opened his first remarks by singing ‘Padre,’ a song by Spanish singer Joan Manuel Serrat about environmental destruction.

Forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon have surged in number by 83% this year, according to government data, destroying vast swathes of a vital bulwark against global climate change.

Some 60% of the forest is located in Brazil. The Amazon is also home to around one million members of 500 indigenous groups.

Fires have also raged in recent weeks in Bolivia.

Bolsonaro initially accused non-governmental organizations of setting the fires without providing any evidence, while environmentalists have warned his controversial plans for more agriculture and mining in the region will speed up deforestation.

The far-right firebrand engaged in a public war of words with French President Emmanuel Macron, who called for more to be done to combat the fires.

Bolsonaro has said that he would only accept an offer of $20 million in aid if Macron withdraws “insults” against him. (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Richard Chang)

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