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UN trust fund to save 675 sq miles of Amazon rainforest

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The reports the government of Ecuador and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) have signed a deal to establish a legally binding trust fund to protect 675 square miles of pristine rainforest in the Amazon.

, a UNESCO Biosphere reserve, is located 250 kilometres from Ecuador's capital city Quito. Nearly 1 billion barrels of crude oil sits untapped beneath the surface of the park -- worth more than $7 billion at today's prices.

Thanks to the establishment of the trust, the oil and timber resources of the area will never be exploited.

As part of the initiative, governments, philanthropists and individuals around the world are being invited to make contributions to the trust fund in return for "non-exploitation guarantees".

The fund will be administered by the UNDP. Money raised by the initiative will be used to protect 4.8 million hectares of land in Ecuador's national parks. Resources will also be put aside to develop renewable energy and build schools and hospitals for indigenous groups across the Amazon.

Germany has reportedly committed $800m to the fund, and Spain, France and Switzerland are also considering making contributions.

"The object is to preserve biodiversity and prevent climate change emissions. Ecuador is an oil-exporting country and the oil reserves in YasunÌ have been shown to represent 20% of the oil in the whole country," said Helga Serrano of the Ecuadorean foreign ministry. "We will keep the oil underground indefinitely. We think $3.6bn is a fair contribution from developed countries," she said.

Conservation groups have hailed the establishment of the UN trust fund for YasunÌ as historic".

"We welcome this long sought after final step to protect an important part of YasunÌ national park," said Kevin Koenig of Amazon Watch. "This is a big win for Ecuador, and the world. Now we need more countries to contribute, and for [Ecuadorian] President Correa to keep his word."

"We are seeking nothing less than a new paradigm for development. This is what the majority of people in Ecuador want. YasunÌ will remain protected through generations," added Daniel Ortega from Ecuador's environment and climate change ministry.

Ecuador has become a major oil producer over the last 30 years. The development of the industry has been controversial, however. For the past 17 years, 30,000 Ecuadorians have been fighting to win compensation of around $27 billion (£17 billion) from U.S. oil giant Chevron, after subsidiary Texaco allegedly dumped 68 billion litres of toxic waste water in the Amazon. A report this week says a verdict in the case is unlikely for another 8-10 months.

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