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18 suspects killed in drug raid on Rio slum

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Police killed at least 18 suspected drug traffickers in a massive operation yesterday to serve arrest warrants and seize drugs and arms in a vast Rio de Janeiro shantytown, a state security official said.

The deaths came after 1,350 officers and elite federal police aided by helicopters and armored cars were deployed in the sprawling Alemao slum, where an ongoing war between drug traffickers has killed 31 people and left about 80 injured since May.

All of those killed were suspected members of gangs that control the city's thriving drug trade, said Jose Mariano Beltrame, the state's security chief.

"There were no innocent people killed," Beltrame said a press conference, adding that the operation would continue indefinitely.

Beltrame said the operation entailed police entering dangerous areas of the slum where they have had no presence for years, which resulted in intense fighting.

It took police about five hours of battling gang members through narrow alleys to get to the traffickers' main stronghold, he said.

Beltrame said the operation did not have anything to do with the Pan American Games, scheduled to take place in Rio next month. Security is a key concern for the July 13 to 29 games, when thousands of athletes and hundreds of thousands of spectators are expected in the city.

"The operation could have taken place two months ago, but the consequences would have been much worse," Beltrame said. "We used the time to gather intelligence and achieve our objectives."

He said at least 10 people were wounded in the operation. Beltrame said the death toll may be higher because officials believe they did not recover all the bodies of those killed.