Brazilian police have opened a criminal investigation into the disappearance of a British journalist in the Amazon jungle.
Dom Phillips disappeared on Sunday with Bruno Araujo Pereiraa local indigenous expert and former government official whose job was to protect uncontacted tribes in Brazil.
Officers interviewed at least four witnesses believed to be among the last to see Mr Phillips, a freelancer who writes for The Guardian, The Washington Post, The New York Times and other publications.
Guilherme Torres, head of the internal department of the Amazonas state civil police, told Reuters news agency that Mr Pereira had recently received a threatening letter from a local fisherman, which the police were trying to stop. locate.
He said his colleagues interviewed two fishermen as witnesses on Monday, and two more interviewed on Tuesday.
The first two witnesses did not provide any useful information and Mr. Torres does not yet have details of the second two interviews.
“We are indeed working with the assumption that a crime may have occurred, but there is another, much greater possibility that they may have been lost,” he said.
“Now our priority is to find them alive, especially in these first hours. At the same time, a criminal investigation has been opened to see if there has been a crime committed.”
The Brazilian Navy and Army have both dispatched search teams in boats and helicopters to try to find the pair and are supported by federal and state police.
Mr Phillips, 57, and his guide disappeared on a reporting trip to the Javari Valley.
Bordering Peru, this vast region is home to the largest number of uncontacted indigenous people in the world and is
threatened by illegal miners, loggers, hunters and gangs of coca growers who manufacture the raw material for cocaine.
Mr Torres said he could not rule out that their disappearance was linked to gangs operating in the lawless region.
The couple were part of an indigenous patrol that was threatened by gunmen on Saturday, according to representatives of the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley, which first announced their disappearance.
They would have recorded the confrontation on a mobile phone.
The disappearance of the two men, who both had years of experience working in the complex and inhospitable Amazon rainforest, has sparked global concern from human rights groups, environmentalists, politicians and advocates of freedom of the press.
Mr Phillips’ wife, Alessandra Sampaio, urged authorities to step up their search efforts in a moving TV interview, ‘because we still have some hope of finding them’.
“Even if I can’t find the love of my life alive, please find him,” she added.
Monday, his sister Sian Phillips told Sky News she was worried there is illegal logging and drug trafficking in the area where he disappeared.
“I’m very anxious. I’m desperately worried. It’s your worst fear,” Ms Phillips said.
“We need everything for this. We want British officials to put pressure on the Brazilian authorities to act.”
Mr Pereira’s family issued a statement calling for a robust search operation, adding that “we are also very hopeful that there has been an accident with the boat and that they are waiting for help”.
President Jair Bolsonaro said in a television interview on Tuesday that the two men “were on an adventure that is not recommended”.
“It could be an accident, they could have been executed, anything could have happened,” he said. “I hope, and
we pray to God that they will be found soon.”
The Brazilian leader faced tough questions from Mr Phillips during press conferences about policies that have weakened enforcement of the country’s environmental laws.
Indigenous patrols have repeatedly complained about weak environmental law enforcement since Mr Bolsonaro came to power and called for fewer restrictions on tribal lands in the Javari Valley.
They also regularly clash with miners and illegal hunters in the area.
Mr. Phillips had been looking for a book about the Amazon and its conservationists.
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