By Raymond Colitt
BRASILIA, Sept 29 (Reuters) - The Brazilian government tops the list of the 100 largest illegal loggers in the Amazon rain forest and will face criminal charges, the Environment Ministry said on Monday.
The six largest deforested areas since 2005 all belong to the government Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform, or Incra, which distributes land to the poor. Together 223,000 hectares (550,000 acres) of the world’s largest rain forest were destroyed on those six properties, as settlers chopped down trees to sell and plant crops.
"We’re going to blow all 100 of them out of the water and then some," an irate Environment Minister Carlos Minc told a news conference, referring to plans to sue them.
Releasing the list of illegal loggers, he said the environment ministry will bring criminal charges against all of them.
Official data showed on Monday a renewed increase in the rate of deforestation. Some 756 square kilometers (292 square miles) were chopped down in August, twice the rate in July, the National Institute of Space Studies (Inpe) said.
"It was a terrible result," Minc said, blaming expanding cattle and farm activity, as well as land theft through the falsificaiton of property titles.
Minc had been celebrating a decline in deforestation rates in previous months as evidence that the government’s conservation policies were working.
News that Incra topped the list of violators is likely to fuel the argument of large landowners that poor peasants are also to blame for the destruction of the Amazon.
Thousands of settlers live on the Incra properties, which for years have been part of a government policy to redistribute land to the poor. There was no immediate comment from Incra.
Other figures released by Minc on Monday showed that private land holders deforested more than three times as much as the Incra did between January and August of this year.
Farmers and cattle ranchers pushing deeper into the forest in search of cheap land are mostly to blame for deforestation, experts say.
The government will create an environmental police force with 3,000 heavily armed and specially trained officers to help combat deforestion, Minc said.
In the 12 months through July, deforestation totalled an estimated 12,000 square km (4,633 square miles), up from 11,224 square km (4,332 square miles) but down from a peak of 27,379 square km (10,570 square miles) in 2004.
(Reporting by Raymond Colitt; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)