Amazon countries meet to bolster rainforest protection
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Amazon countries meet to bolster rainforest protection

Colombian President Ivan Duque (C-L) meeting with indigenous leaders before a summit on protecting the Amazon in Leticia, Colombia, on September 6, 2019
Colombian President Ivan Duque (C-L) meeting with indigenous leaders before a summit on protecting the Amazon in Leticia, Colombia, on September 6, 2019

LETICIA (COLOMBIA) - Presidents and ministers from six Amazon countries met in Colombia on Friday to agree measures to protect the world's biggest rainforest, under threat from wildfires and rampant deforestation.

The meeting was called "to foster a space for regional dialogue to advance the protection and sustainable use of this region, which is essential for the survival of the planet," Colombia's President Ivan Duque said.

The summit took place in the wake of an international outcry over months of raging wildfires that have devastated swathes of the Amazon in Brazil and Bolivia.

Duque inaugurated the meeting in a "maloka" -- an indigenous hut -- in southern Colombia's Amazon city of Leticia.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, widely criticized over policies that favor deforestation and a delayed reaction to the wildfires, pulled out of the meeting earlier this week citing doctors' orders.

Bolsonaro is due to undergo surgery on Sunday and is required by doctors to begin a liquid diet Friday, but aides said he would participate by videoconference.

- Protection pact -

The six nations were set to sign the "Leticia Pact for the Amazon" that Duque said would provide greater tools of protection for the rainforest, as existing treaties had "fallen short".

He said the Pact would set out a roadmap for safeguarding the rainforest "not only for the Amazon countries but also the nations of the region and the international community."

Colombia's Environment Minister Ricardo Lozano said the new measures include the setting up of an "Amazonian cooperation network" to share information on deforestation, including weather data to mitigate the effects of climate change, and threats from illegal mining and logging.

"We needed to increase and strengthen the cooperation between us, precisely to meet the great challenges of the Amazon, which are becoming more extreme and more intense every day," he told reporters in Leticia.

Aside from the host Duque, other presidents attending were Peru's Martin Vizcarra, Ecuador's Lenin Moreno, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Suriname's vice-president Michael Adhin.

Brazil was represented by Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo.

"We have to give concrete answers," Vizcarra told the conference. "The dimension of the problem forces us to make drastic decisions."

- New instruments -

In a message to the summit, UNESCO director general Audrey Azoulay called on leaders to "reinforce existing instruments" designed to protect the Amazon.

"These instruments should be strengthened, more states encouraged to ratify them, increase protected areas, strengthen surveillance and action capabilities. "

Brazil contains 60 percent of the rainforest within its borders, with the rest spread over areas of Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela as well as the French overseas department of French Guyana.

Venezuela was not invited to attend the conference.

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