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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Authorities find belongings of missing journalist and expert in Amazon

By Jack Nicas and André Spigariol

A British journalist and a Brazilian expert on Indigenous peoples have now been missing deep in the Amazon rainforest for more than a week, and increasing signs suggest that the two men may not be found alive.

Brazilian authorities said late last week that they found human remains in the area where the men were last seen as well as blood on a suspect’s boat and that the samples were being tested. Then, over the weekend, authorities found belongings of the two men, including clothes, a sandal, a bag and a health card.

“I pray to God that they find them alive, but the evidence suggests otherwise at the moment,” President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil told a local media outlet Monday.

Dom Phillips, a freelance writer for British news organization The Guardian, and Bruno Araújo Pereira, an expert on Indigenous groups who has done extensive work in the Amazon, were last seen June 5, while traveling in a boat on the Itaquaí River in the northern Brazilian state of Amazonas, near the border with Peru.

Pereira had faced threats in the region for his work creating teams of local Indigenous people to patrol the rivers and forest for illegal fishing, hunting and mining.

Officials at Univaja, a local Indigenous association that helps organize the patrols, said illegal activity had gotten worse in the area over the past several years, as budget cuts and policy changes from the Bolsonaro administration reduced the presence of government authorities there.

Phillips had traveled to the Javari Valley Indigenous reserve with Pereira to report on the Indigenous patrols for a book. On June 4, while the two men were on a boat with a patrol, another boat passed carrying three men known to be illegal fishermen, Univaja said. The men showed the patrol boat their guns, Univaja said.

The following morning, Phillips, 57, and Pereira, 41, started their journey home, traveling down the Itaquaí River on a new boat with sufficient fuel for the trip. They have not been seen since.

State police officials have since arrested Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, a fisherman known locally as “Pelado,” or “naked” in Portuguese, for having illegal ammunition. The officials said that he is the main suspect in the disappearance of Phillips and Pereira and that he was seen following the two men in his boat just before they went missing. Univaja said that de Oliveira was also one of the fisherman who showed their guns to the patrol boat the previous day.

The human remains are being tested at the national forensic lab in Brasília, the nation’s capital. Officials said that they collected genetic samples of Phillips and Pereira at their homes to see if there was a match.

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