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Brazil's President Accepts Chile's Help in Battling Amazon Wildfires

A destroyed area is seen in a part of the Menkragnoti indigenous reserve of the Kayapo indigenous group in the Amazon rainforest in Altamira, Para state, Brazil, Aug. 28, 2019.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Wednesday that he had accepted the help of four Chilean aircraft in the fight against wildfires in the Amazon rainforest, and he renewed his criticism of French President Emmanuel Macron.

Bolsonaro again accused the French leader of calling him a liar over a dispute about how to contain the raging wildfires. He said Macron believed himself to be "the one and only person interested in defending the environment."

Bolsonaro's remarks came one day after he said his country would accept $20 million in aid from Group of Seven countries to battle the wildfires only if Macron retracted what Bolsonaro considered offensive remarks.

He initially said Tuesday that Macron had accused him of being a liar and demanded that Macron retract his comments.

"From there, we can talk," Bolsonaro said.

Bolsonaro rejected the aid Monday, declaring the funds could be better used in Europe.

Amazon nations' meeting

After a meeting Wednesday with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera in Brasilia, Bolsonaro said Amazon nations, except Venezuela, would meet in Colombia Sept. 6 "to come up with our own unified strategy for preserving the environment."

A statement Wednesday from the two South American leaders acknowledged environmental challenges must be met, but only by respecting "national sovereignty."

While Bolsonaro said Brazil was willing to accept "bilateral" offers of aid, he accused Germany and France of trying to "buy" the sovereignty of Brazil.

FILE - Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro is pictured in Brasilia, Aug. 23, 2019.
FILE - Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro is pictured in Brasilia, Aug. 23, 2019.

Macron has questioned Bolsonaro's honesty and commitment to protecting the environment. He threatened last week to block a free-trade deal between Latin America and the European Union unless Bolsonaro, a climate change skeptic, took serious steps to fight the Amazon fires.

World leaders at the recently concluded G-7 summit in France of the world's most advanced economies committed an immediate $20 million on Monday to fight the wildfires that are threatening the world's biggest rainforest.

Macron said France within hours would provide military support in the region to fight the fires.

Bolsonaro's chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, took aim at Macron on Tuesday, declaring Brazil was a nation that "never had colonialist and imperialist practices, as perhaps is the objective of the Frenchman Macron."

Lorenzoni also said Macron could not "even avoid a foreseeable fire in a church that is a world heritage site," a reference to an April fire that devastated France's Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Aid for Africa

Macron and Pinera said the G-7 countries — the United States, Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and France — were studying the possibility of giving similar aid to support Africa to fight wildfires in its rainforests.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump pledged his "complete support" for Bolsonaro. In a tweet, Trump said Bolsonaro "is working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil - Not easy."

Under pressure from the international community to protect the environment, Bolsonaro on Sunday dispatched two C-130 Hercules aircraft to help douse the flames. Macron said the U.S. supported the aid to South American countries, even though Trump skipped Monday's G-7 working session on the environment.

More than 75,000 fires covering the Amazon region have been detected this year, with many of them coming this month. Experts have blamed farmers and ranchers for the fires, accusing them of setting them to clear lands for their operations.

About 60% of the Amazon region is in Brazil. The vast rainforest also extends into Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.