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Possible human remains have been found during the search for a missing British journalist and an indigenous guide who disappeared a week ago in a remote region of the Brazilian Amazon.
Dom Phillips, who has been a regular contributor to The Guardian newspaper, and former Indigenous leader Bruno Pereira were last seen on the morning of June 5 near the Javari Valley Indigenous territory, located in a remote area of the Brazilian Amazon on the border of Peru and Colombia.
The two men were in the community of Sao Rafael and were returning by boat to the nearby town of Atalaia do Norte but never arrived. After what was criticized as a slow start, the Brazilian army, navy, civil defense, state police and indigenous volunteers were mobilized in the search.
Speaking at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles on Friday, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro vowed his armed forces were working “tirelessly” to find them, according to Reuters.
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Brazilian Federal Police revealed on Saturday that ‘apparently human’ remains were found Friday in an area of the river near where the two men disappeared, and that the ‘organic material’ was being sent for forensic analysis. , reported Reuters and the Associated Press.
But sources, including a federal police officer and a state detective, separately expressed doubts to Reuters that such material could be anything other than butcher’s scraps judging by where. he was found.
The only known suspect in the disappearances is fisherman Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, also known as Pelado, who is under arrest for illegal possession of restricted ammunition.
The BBC reported that police said he was one of the last people seen with Phillips and Pereira, and bloodstains found on his boat will be tested to see if it is a DNA match with missing men.
According to accounts from Aboriginal people who were with Pereira and Phillips, da Costa de Oliveira brandished a rifle at them the day before the couple disappeared. He denies any wrongdoing and said military police tortured him in an attempt to extract a confession, his family told the AP.
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Judge Jacinta Silva dos Santos has agreed to keep the fisherman detained for a further 30 days as police continue to investigate whether he was involved in the pair’s disappearance. At least six other people were interviewed.
Phillips, who lives in Salvador, Bahia, has contributed to The Washington Post and The New York Times. He is writing a book on the preservation of the Amazon with the support of the Alicia Patterson Foundation, which awarded him a one-year grant for environmental reporting.
Pereira, who previously headed the local office of the indigenous government agency, known as FUNAI, has taken part in several operations against illegal fishing. In such operations, fishing gear is seized or destroyed, while fishers are fined and briefly detained.
Only natives can legally fish on their territories.
“The motive for the crime is a personal quarrel over the fisheries inspection,” speculated the mayor of Atalaia do Norte, Denis Paiva, to reporters without providing further details.
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The AP had access to information shared by the police with the indigenous leaders. While some police officers, the mayor and others in the area link the couple’s disappearances to a “fish mafia”, federal police are not ruling out other avenues of investigation. The region is experiencing strong drug trafficking activity.
The disappearances come three years after the still unsolved murder of Funai official Maxciel Pereira dos Santos, who was shot dead in front of his wife and daughter-in-law in Tabatinga.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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