One of the two fishermen arrested in connection with the disappearance of British journalist Dom Phillips, 57, and Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, 41, has confessed to participating in the murder and has led investigators to the place where the remains were buried, according to the head of the Federal Police in Amazonas, Eduardo Fontes, who gave a news conference on Wednesday night in Manaus. The remains will be analyzed to confirm their identities. The trail of the pair and their boat was lost on June 5 in one of the most isolated areas of the Brazilian Amazon.
Phillips, a contributor for The Guardian, and Pereira, a longtime advocate for indigenous rights, went missing in Javari Valley, home to the largest concentration of uncontacted indigenous people in the world. It is also an area plagued by hunters, poachers, drug traffickers, illegal loggers and miners. Phillips and Pereira disappeared while returning from a guard post manned by indigenous people in a remote part of the jungle where Phillips was interviewing locals for a book.
The suspects in the deaths are two brothers, Oseney and Amarildo da Costa, both 41 years old. The latter, nicknamed Pelado, was arrested last week on charges of possession of illegal ammunition after his boat was seen chasing the vessel carrying Phillips and Pereira as they were near their destination, the city of Atalaia do Norte. The second brother was arrested on Tuesday.
The police official said that the bodies were buried three kilometers inland in the jungle. The remains will be compared with DNA samples taken from relatives. Once the identities are confirmed, “we will be able to bring them home and bid them a loving farewell,” said Phillips’ wife, Alessandra Sampaio, in a note in which she also announced: “Today, our quest for justice begins.”
Families and colleagues of Pereira and Phillips had criticized Brazilian authorities for the delay in launching a large-scale search operation. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro had stated that “two people on a boat trip in a completely wild area like this – it’s an adventure that’s not at all advisable. Anything can happen. They could have had an accident or been murdered.”
Pereira was employed for many years by FUNAI (Fundação Nacional do Índio or National Indian Foundation), the government agency responsible for protecting the country’s indigenous peoples, and had been repeatedly threatened in the past.
The indigenous trackers with whom Bruno Pereira had collaborated for years led the search for both missing men, combing the area inch by inch with the police and the Armed Forces. Univaja (the União dos Povos do Vale de Javari), which encompasses all the ethnic groups of the valley, issued a statement together with the Apib, which brings together the indigenous organizations of Brazil, and the Observatório dos Povos Indigenas (OPI) in which they qualified this “murder as one more political crime” which, they say, “has the fingerprints of Bolsonaro and is a consequence of the destructive policy of his government.”