Federal police said Friday that human remains found deep in the Brazilian Amazon have been identified as belonging to British journalist Dom Phillips, who disappeared nearly two weeks ago with an indigenous Brazilian expert.
Additional remains found at the site near the town of Atalaia do Norte have not yet been identified but are believed to belong to indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, 41. The couple were last seen on June 5 on their boat on the Itaquai River, near the entrance to the Javari Valley indigenous territory, which borders Peru and Colombia.
“Confirmation (of Phillips’ remains) was made based on dental examinations and forensic anthropology,” federal police said in a statement. “Work is underway for a full identification of the remains so that we can determine the cause of death, as well as the dynamics of the crime and the concealment of the bodies.”
The remains were found on Wednesday after fisherman Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, 41, nicknamed Pelado, confessed to killing Phillips, 57, and Pereira, 41, and led police to the site where the remains were found. He told the police that he used a gun to commit the crime.
Police also arrested Pelado’s brother, fisherman Oseney da Costa de Oliveira, 41.
The area where the Phillips and Pereira disappeared has seen violent conflict between fishermen, poachers and government agents.
Federal police said others may have been involved in the crime, but organized crime groups did not appear to be involved in the killings.
UNIVAJA, the local indigenous association for which Pereira worked, criticized this finding. He said in a statement that the investigation did not take into account the existence of a criminal organization financing illegal fishing and poaching in the indigenous territory of the Javari Valley.
“This is why Bruno Pereira has become one of the main targets of this criminal group, along with other members of UNIVAJA, who have received death threats,” the statement said.
President Jair Bolsonaro, a frequent critic of journalists and indigenous experts, has criticized the government for not getting involved quickly enough. Earlier, he had slammed Phillips in an interview, claiming without evidence that people in the area where he disappeared didn’t like him and that he should have been more careful in the area.
His main opponent in the October elections, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said in a statement that the killings “are directly linked to the dismantling of public policies to protect indigenous peoples”. “, said da Silva, who is leading the opinion polls.
Efforts to find the pair were spearheaded by the indigenous peoples of the area.
Natives who were with Pereira and Phillips said Pelado brandished a gun at them the day before the couple disappeared.
Official search parties have focused their efforts around a location in the Itaquai River where a tarp from the boat used by the missing men was found. Authorities began searching the area and on Sunday discovered a backpack, laptop and other personal belongings submerged underwater.
Authorities said one of the main lines of the police investigation into the disappearances has exposed an international network that pays poor fishermen to fish illegally in the Javari Valley reserve, which is the second largest territory. native to Brazil.
Pereira, who previously headed the local office of the federal indigenous agency, known as FUNAI, has been involved in several operations against illegal fishing. In such operations, as a rule, fishing gear is seized or destroyed, while fishermen are fined and briefly detained. Only natives can legally fish on their territories.
While some police officers, the mayor and others in the area associate the couple’s disappearances with the “fish mafia”, federal police have not ruled out other avenues of investigation, such as drug trafficking.