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‘Human remains’ found in search of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira, says Brazilian minister

SAO PAULO – Brazilian police on Wednesday located “human remains” at an excavation site where they were looking for Dom Phillips and Bruno Araujo Pereira, Brazilian Justice Minister Anderson Torres said on social media.

Phillips, a British journalist, and Pereira, a Brazilian indigenous affairs expert, have been missing in Vale do Javari, a remote region of the Amazon rainforest, since June 5.

Torres said forensic analysis was still needed to confirm whether the remains were from the bodies of Phillips and Pereira, but tests would be carried out later Wednesday night and police would also hold a press conference.

“I have just been informed by the Federal Police that “human remains have been found at the site, where excavations were in progress”, Torres said in a tweet. “They will undergo a forensic examination.”

A Brazilian fisherman detained by police in connection with the disappearances has also confessed to participating in the murders of Pereira and Phillips, multiple media outlets in Brazil and the United States reported on Wednesday. A federal police spokeswoman confirmed the confession in a statement to The New York Times.

Phillips and Pereira had traveled to Vale do Javari to meet with indigenous leaders for a book that Phillips was researching and writing. Leaders of Univaja, a coalition of tribes in the interior of the valley, first reported the couple missing after they failed to show up for a meeting in the town of Atalaia do Norte.

The disappearances of Phillips and Pereira – one a veteran journalist and the other a seasoned expert on the Amazon and the indigenous tribes living there – sparked a furious search, led by indigenous tribes who criticized the initial response of the Brazilian government to their calls for help. , in the Vale do Javari, an area that has been home to growing conflicts between indigenous tribes and illegal miners, loggers, fishermen and other illicit interests in recent years. Police investigators have suggested their disappearances may be linked to illegal fishing and hunting activities in the area.

Phillips, 57, has reported from Brazil and the Amazon for more than a decade and traveled to Vale do Javari to interview indigenous Brazilians for a book he was working on on how to save the forest of destruction. He was a regular contributor to The Guardian and had also written for HuffPost, Washington Post, New York Times and other outlets. Phillips was a well-respected journalist who chronicled threats to the Amazon rainforest, other sensitive environmental regions of Brazil, and the country’s indigenous peoples for years.

Pereira, 41, was a career employee of FUNAI, Brazil’s main indigenous affairs agency, which once oversaw the body’s work in the Vale do Javari and advised many of the tribes living there. A “dedicated defender of indigenous rights”, he was appointed in 2018 to head the FUNAI office which protects isolated tribes who have no known contact with the outside world. He was removed from office a year later, amid disputes with the government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, which rolled back protections for the environment, the Amazon and indigenous tribes.

Pereira often received threats from illegal miners, fishermen and loggers linked to his work. He and Phillips were reported missing on Sunday June 5. The day before, they had both faced new threats from illegal fishermen, according to Univaja executives, and were last seen swimming up the Itaquai River in the Javari Valley.

Police previously arrested two suspects, brothers Amarildo Oliveira and Oseney de Oliveira, in connection with the disappearances. Earlier Wednesday, reporters from Vale do Javari saw police lead a man to a boat near the search site. The man’s identity is unconfirmed, but Brazil’s Globo News reported it was Amarildo Oliveira.

The disappearance of Phillips and Pereira has drawn worldwide attention and scrutiny to the search. Indigenous groups including Univaja initially said the Brazilian government and armed forces had been “absent” from efforts to find Phillips and Pereira, generating even greater pressure on Bolsonaro and the Brazilian military to they conduct more robust search and rescue. operation.

British journalist Dom Phillips (right) and indigenous affairs expert Bruno Araujo Pereira walk in the village of Maloca Papiu, Roraima state, Brazil, November 2019.

Joao Laet via Associated Press

The Guardian also criticized the government’s reaction in an op-ed, while its editors and other leading outlets ― including the Washington Post, New York Times, Associated Press, NPR and Folha de S. Paulo, one of Brazil’s largest newspapers ― demanded that Brazil “urgently step up and fully fund the effort” in a letter to Bolsonaro.

“Cadê Bruno e Dom” ― “Where are Bruno and Dom?” in Portuguese―has become a rallying cry on social media and among prominent Brazilian actors, musicians, athletes, politicians, journalists and television personalities. Pelé, the iconic Brazilian football star, implored the government to step up efforts to find the missing pair on Twitter, while Caetano Veloso, the famous Brazilian musician, called on the government to do more at a concert shortly after their disappearance.

Indigenous activists events organized outside the FUNAI headquarters in Brasilia, the Brazilian capital, and the protests spread to London, where Phillips was from, in Los Angeleswhere Bolsonaro was attending the Summit of the Americas.

Sonia Guajajara, a prominent Brazilian indigenous activist, pleaded with US climate envoy and former Secretary of State John Kerry to step up pressure on the Bolsonaro government at an event in New York, and Kerry pledged to bring the matter to the attention of President Joe Biden prior to a bilateral meeting between the US and Brazilian presidents in Los Angeles. US lawmakers and British MPs have tweeted calls for a more extensive search and rescue mission.

Bolsonaro, on the other hand, took a dismissive stance towards Phillips and Pereira, making their demise the result of their own decision to venture into a dangerous region.

“Really, just two people in a boat in a completely wild area like this is not a recommended adventure. Everything can happen. It could be an accident, they could have been killed,” Bolsonaro said in a TV interview two days after Pereira and Phillips disappeared.

Bolsonaro took an even more unsympathetic stance on Wednesday, before the men were found, effectively blaming Phillips for his own disappearance.

“This Englishman was frowned upon in the region because he did a lot of reporting against garimpeirosBolsonaro said, referring to illegal miners who have operated more freely in the Amazon under the right-wing president’s watch. “A lot of people didn’t like him. He had to take more care of himself. And he decided to go on an excursion.

Their disappearances have shed light on the growing danger and lawlessness plaguing the Amazon region, particularly under Bolsonaro, who has reduced protection for the forest and the indigenous tribes within it in order to promote greater economic development in the region. vital ecosystem. Indigenous tribes have previously charged Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity in a filing with the International Criminal Court and said his policies amounted to a genocidal campaign against them.

Illegal invasions of indigenous lands and killings of tribal members have risen sharply since Bolsonaro became president in 2019, according to the Indigenous Missionary Council, a Brazilian nonprofit. Bolsonaro has allied himself closely with savage miners, illegal fishermen and illegal loggers who have tried to expand their own operations into the forest – and often sparked conflicts with indigenous tribes in the process: he has drained powers monitoring and enforcement agencies like FUNAI and limited the issuance of fines related to environmental violations.

Indigenous tribes in the Vale do Javari had previously tried to draw attention to threats from illegal fishermen, miners, drug traffickers and the Bolsonaro government, including the president’s attempt to appoint a former Christian missionary who had previously argued that isolated tribes should be targeted. for religious conversion to a position that would oversee their protection.

Phillips has spent his life telling these stories to the world. Pereira strove to protect the native tribes even from a government that wanted to target them.

Nearly 300 indigenous people have been murdered since Bolsonaro took office, according to the Indigenous Missionary Council, and in 2019 another FUNAI employee was murdered in Vale do Javari. His case was never resolved.

That year, Human Rights Watch accused Bolsonaro of granting “carte blanche” to criminal networks operating in the Amazon. The right-wing president, who counts miners, loggers and other similar interests among his staunchest allies and supporters, has eroded the Brazilian government’s ability to protect the forest and the people who live there ― or journalists, environmentalists and human rights defenders who tried to protect them instead.

“The disappearance of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira, and the Brazilian government’s inadequate response, are integral to President Jair Bolsonaro’s reluctance to confront the catastrophic environmental damage underway in the Amazon,” said journalist Eliane Brum, who lives in the Amazon region. written for the New York Times. “It is not in Mr. Bolsonaro’s interest or in his personality to do anything for the defenders of the rainforest.”

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