A lush forest sits next to a field of charred trees in Vila Nova Samuel, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. Lingering smoke in the Amazon caused concern Tuesday among Brazilians who say that respiratory problems, particularly among children and the elderly, have increased as fires in the region rage. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

PORTO VELHO, Brazil (AP) — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Wednesday that Latin America's Amazon countries will meet in September to discuss both protecting and developing the rainforest region, which has been hit by weeks of devastating fires.

The Brazilian leader also escalated a deeply personal dispute with French President Emmanuel Macron, accusing him of portraying himself as "the one and only person" concerned about the environment.

Bolsonaro's remarks pushed back at international allegations that, on his watch, the weakening of environmental safeguards in Brazil had set the stage for farmers, developers and others to set fires more aggressively this year as a way to clear land, much of it already deforested. They also highlighted the Brazilian government's contention that some international offers of help to fight the fires were an infringement of Brazilian sovereignty over the region.

Macron and other European leaders argue the fires in the Amazon require a global response because of the ecosystem's critical role in draining heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Macron criticized Bolsonaro for allegedly lying to him about his commitments to biodiversity, prompting the Brazilian to accuse the French leader of evoking his country's colonial past.

On Wednesday, Bolsonaro said Germany and France had tried to "buy" Brazil's sovereignty. The acrimony has sidelined a pledge of $20 million from the Group of Seven nations to help protect rainforest in the Amazon, though Bolsonaro said he would accept "bilateral" aid and that Chile was sending four firefighting planes. Britain has pledged $12 million and Canada has offered $11 million.

Leaders of all Amazon nations except Venezuela will meet Sept. 6 "to come up with our own unified strategy for preserving the environment, and also for exploration sustainable in our region," Bolsonaro said after meeting with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia. The conference is to be in Colombia.

Latin America countries that contain Amazon rainforest "have sovereignty over the Amazon, that needs to be recognized always," Piñera said.

A regional conservationist said "the ideal scenario" would be if the Amazon countries agree on how to preserve the region and receive robust international support in order to do it.

"Sovereignty is certainly a fundamental issue here," said Roberto Troya, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the WWF conservation group. But, he said, the issue can have a negative impact "if used as a shield to isolate and distort the reality of what's going on on the ground."

Six former Brazilian environment ministers met Wednesday with Rodrigo Maia, president of the lower house of congress, to demand stronger protections for the environment. The ministers said Brazil should accept international aid to fight the fires and accused Bolsonaro's government of dismantling environmental institutions, according to the G1 news website.

Porto Velho, the capital of Brazil's Amazon state of Rondonia, has been heavily affected by smoke from the fires.

Resident Graciela Martinez said it was important for the world to preserve the Amazon. But she questioned the surge of international concern and aid offers this year, saying fires have been common in the past.

"I suspect that there's some kind of hidden interest behind it, because we had never seen this before. We've had bigger fires and it's only now that we have this worldwide ruckus," Martinez said.

Another resident, Geane Pereira de Souza, walked out of a hospital pushing a wheelchair carrying her teenage son. She said the Brazilian government has not done enough to protect the rainforest and that international help is needed.

"Any help is good and welcome," she said. "The Amazon means everything to me. Some say it's like the heart of the world."

About 60% of the Amazon region is in Brazil. The vast Amazon also spans parts of Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, an overseas region of France.

Bolivia, which shares a border with Brazil, is also struggling with fires, many of which got out of control in high winds after being intentionally set during an expansion of farming and ranching.

The fires started in July and have consumed 18,000 square kilometers (6,950 square miles) in the Bolivian Amazon and Santa Cruz, the country's agro-industrial center, according to satellite images assessed by Fundación Amigos de la Naturaleza, a Bolivian environmental group.

President Evo Morales said up to 30% of the burned area had been intact forest, while the rest was set on fire in the annual cycle of land-clearing.

Lingering smoke in the Amazon, meanwhile, is reportedly causing increased respiratory problems — particularly among children and the elderly — as fires in the region rage.

The number of people treated for respiratory issues increased sharply in recent days at the Cosme e Damia Children's hospital in Porto Velho, the capital of Brazil's Amazon state of Rondonia.

Fears over health impacts have been growing with the surge in fires, with more than 83,000 blazes documented by the country's National Space Research Institute since the start of the year. That's a 77% increase over the same period last year. About half of the fires occurred in the Amazon region, with most in the past month.

The state hymn of Rondonia takes pride in the region's famously beautiful skies. "Blue, our sky is always blue," it says. "May God keep it unrivaled, crystal, pure, and always keep it that way."

Some clouds and a blue sky were partly visible Wednesday. But then the haze settled again blanketing the horizon with thick smoke that covered the early morning red-blood sun.

Annual fires usually occur around August but this year people started them earlier, said Troya of the WWF.

"Maybe the rule of law is not necessarily there," he said. "Probably people feel that they can do it without any consequence."

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Associated Press writer Luis Andres Henao reported this story in Porto Velho and AP writer Christopher Torchia reported from Rio de Janeiro. AP writers Anna Jean Kaiser in Rio and Carlos Valdez in La Paz, Bolivia, contributed to this report.

Land smolders during a forest fire in Altamira in Brazil's Amazon, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. The fire is very close to Kayapo indigenous land located on the Bau indigenous reserve. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
A firefighter works to put out a fire in the Chiquitania Forest in Santa Rosa de Tucabaca, on the outskirts of Robore, Bolivia, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. While some of the fires are burning in Bolivia's share of the Amazon, the largest blazes were in the Chiquitanía region of southeastern Bolivia. It's zone of dry forest, farmland and open prairies that has seen an expansion of farming and ranching in recent years. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
A firefighter walk past burning brush in the Chiquitania Forest in Santa Rosa de Tucabaca, on the outskirts of Robore, Bolivia, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. While some of the fires are burning in Bolivia's share of the Amazon, the largest blazes were in the Chiquitanía region of southeastern Bolivia. It's zone of dry forest, farmland and open prairies that has seen an expansion of farming and ranching in recent years. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
A lone tree stands in a deforested farm field near Porto Velho, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. While many of the recorded fires this year were set in already deforested areas by people clearing land for cultivation or pasture, Brazilian government figures indicate that they are much more widespread this year, suggesting the threat to the vast ecosystem is intensifying. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
Members of the Kayapo indigenous group attend a meeting to discuss community issues in Bau village located on Kayapo indigenous territory in Altamira in Brazil’s Amazon, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. The fire is very close to Kayapo indigenous land located on the Bau indigenous reserve. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Wakonkra Kayapo, of the Kayapo indigenous community, carries his rifle as he searches for tracks left behind by suspected prospectors and loggers on Bau indigenous territory in Altamira, in Brazil's Amazon, where fires burn nearby, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019.
In this photo released by Brazil's Presidential press office, President Jair Bolsonaro, left, greets Chile's President Sebastian Pinera at the Alvorada palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Bolsonaro has suggested the offers of international aid mask a plot to exploit the Amazon's resources and weaken Brazilian growth. He raised those complaints again during the meeting with Pinera, accusing French President Emmanuel Macron, with whom he's been feuding openly, of trying to
In this time exposure, stars fill the sky over Bau village located on Kayapo indigenous territory in Altamira in Brazil's Amazon, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. Fires are burning very close to Kayapo indigenous land located on the Bau indigenous reserve. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Bolivia's President Evo Morales talks on a phone as he looks out of a plane window to survey forests affected by fires in the Charagua province of Bolivia, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. The largest blazes in Bolivia are in the Chiquitanía region, a zone of dry forest, farmland and open prairies that has seen an expansion of farming and ranching. (David Mercado/Pool Photo via AP)
Members of Kayapo indigenous community unload supplies from a boat to their territorial monitoring base on the Curua River in the Bau indigenous land in Altamira in Brazil's Amazon, as fires burn nearby, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. The base, called in Portuguese
A youth from the Kayapo indigenous community bathes in the Bau River at dusk near his village on Bau indigenous land in Altamira in Brazil's Amazon, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. Fires are burning very close to this Kayapo indigenous land located on the Bau indigenous reserve. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
In this Aug. 26, 2019 photo, children of the Nambikwara Sarare tribe climbs trees as they play at their indigenous reserve near Conquista D'Oeste, Mato Grosso state, Brazil. According with the Nambikwara Sarare leaders, the ongoing fires in the region and smoke have affected their lives, bringing disease and damaging animal life. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
A women from the Kayapo indigenous community steps out of her home in her village on Bau indigenous land in Altamira in Brazil's Amazon, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. Forest fires are burning very close to Kayapo indigenous land located on the Bau indigenous reserve. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Smoke rises from the burning jungle in Altamira, Para state, Brazil, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said he has accepted four planes from Chile to help fight Amazon fires, and he accused the French president of portraying himself as