Suspect detained as Brazil steps up search for missing British journalist and researcher in remote Amazon region


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A British journalist and an indigenous affairs expert are missing in a remote part of Brazil’s Amazon region, and a suspect is believed to be being held in connection with their disappearance.

Dom Phillips, who has contributed regularly to the Guardian newspaper, and Bruno Araújo Pereira were last seen Sunday at 7 a.m. in the community of Sao Rafael, according to the Univaja association of indigenous peoples of Vale do Javari, for which Pereira has been an adviser.

They were returning by boat from Vale do Javari and heading for the town of Atalaia do Norte, about an hour away, but they never showed up.

Phillips, who currently resides in Salvador, Bahia, has also contributed to The Washington Post and The New York Times. He is writing a book about preserving the Amazon with support from the Alicia Patterson Foundation, which awarded him a one-year fellowship for environmental reporting that ran until January.

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British journalist Dom Phillips, right, and a Yanomami native walk in the village of Maloca Papiu, Roraima state, Brazil, November 2019.

British journalist Dom Phillips, right, and a Yanomami native walk in the village of Maloca Papiu, Roraima state, Brazil, November 2019.
((AP Photo/João Laet))

Both CBS News and Brazilian Report said a suspect has been identified as Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, nicknamed “Pelado.” Amazonas State Civil Police arrested him for allegedly carrying a firearm without a license, but they are holding him in connection with the disappearances.

In the first public press conference since the disappearance of the journalist and guide, General Carlos Alberto Mansur, Secretary of State for Public Security, said officials did not yet have concrete evidence linking the man to the disappearances. , but investigations are ongoing and five others have been interviewed.

Pereira is currently on leave from her position with the Brazilian Indigenous Affairs Agency and is one of its most senior employees operating in the Vale do Javari region. He oversaw the agency’s regional office and the coordination of uncontacted indigenous groups before taking his leave. He has received a constant stream of threats from illegal fishermen and poachers, and he usually carries a gun.

People take part in a vigil outside the Brazilian Embassy for Dom Phillips and Bruno Araujo Pereira, British journalist and indigenous affairs official missing in the Amazon, in London, Thursday June 9, 2022.

People take part in a vigil outside the Brazilian Embassy for Dom Phillips and Bruno Araujo Pereira, British journalist and indigenous affairs official missing in the Amazon, in London, Thursday June 9, 2022.
((Victoria Jones/PA via AP))

Univaja said the two were threatened during their current reporting trip. They disappeared while returning from a two-day trip to the Lake Jaburu area, where Phillips interviewed local natives, according to Univaja. Only the two were on the boat, according to the association.

The place where they disappeared is the main access route to and from the Vale do Javari, where several thousand natives live in dozens of villages.

Locals say it is highly unlikely that they got lost in this area.

The Guardian quoted a spokesperson as saying the association “is very concerned and is urgently seeking information about the fate and condition of Mr Phillips. We are in contact with the British Embassy in Brazil and local and national authorities to try to establish the facts as soon as possible.”

“He is a cautious journalist, with an impressive knowledge of the complexities of Brazil’s environmental crisis,” Margaret Engel, executive director of the Alicia Patterson Foundation, wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “And he’s a beautiful writer and a lovely person. The best in our business.”

Brazil’s federal prosecutors said in a statement they had opened an investigation and mobilized the federal police, the Amazonas state civilian police, the national guard and the navy. The latter will coordinate the search efforts, according to the press release. In a statement, the Navy said it was sending a search and rescue team. The footprint and manpower of the army is much larger than that of the navy in the region.

Federal Police arrive in Atalaia do Norte, Amazonas state, Brazil, Wednesday, June 8, 2022, to bolster the search and investigation into the disappearance of British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous affairs expert Bruno Araujo Pereira.

Federal Police arrive in Atalaia do Norte, Amazonas state, Brazil, Wednesday, June 8, 2022, to bolster the search and investigation into the disappearance of British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous affairs expert Bruno Araujo Pereira.
((AP Photo/Edmar Barros))

“I hope they will be found soon, that they are well and that they are safe,” former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said on Twitter, while recalling that Phillips interviewed him in 2017. .

The Vale do Javari region has seen repeated gunfights between hunters, fishermen and official security guards, who have a permanent base in the area, which is known to have the world’s largest population of uncontacted indigenous people. It is also an important route for cocaine produced on the Peruvian side of the border and then smuggled into Brazil to supply local towns or for shipment to Europe.

In September 2019, an employee of the indigenous affairs agency was shot dead in Tabatinga, the largest town in the region. The crime was never solved.

“It is extremely important that the Brazilian authorities dedicate all available and necessary resources to the immediate execution of the searches, in order to guarantee, as soon as possible, the safety of the two men,” said Maria Laura Canineau, director of Human Rights Watch. in Brazil, said Monday in a statement.

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Journalists working for regional media in the Amazon have been murdered in recent years, although there have been no such cases among journalists from domestic or foreign media. However, several threats have been reported and the press has limited access to several areas dominated by criminal activity, including illegal mining, land grabbing and drug trafficking.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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