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Confusion as police deny finding bodies in search for missing men in Amazon

British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira were last seen on June 5

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Indigenous people protest demanding for security in the region, following the disappearance of British journalist Dom Phillips

Indigenous people protest demanding for security in the region, following the disappearance of British journalist Dom Phillips

Indigenous people protest demanding for security in the region, following the disappearance of British journalist Dom Phillips

The search for British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira was thrown into confusion yesterday with conflicting reports over whether their bodies had been found.

The men are feared dead after having been missing for more than a week in the vicinity of the remote Javari Valley Indigenous Territory in western Brazil.

The Brazilian embassy in London contacted Mr Phillips’s UK-based family early yesterday to inform them that two bodies had been found tied to a tree in the rainforest.

Paul Sherwood, Mr Phillips’s brother-in-law, told his former employer the Washington Post that he was called by the embassy’s minister-councillor Roberto Doring.

“He told me it was likely to be Dom and Bruno,” Mr Sherwood said. “But he wasn’t telling me that as an official statement, and would come back later with the results. No one has rung me since.”

In a separate statement, Mr Sherwood added: “He said that when it was light, or when it was possible, they would do an identification.”

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s president, appeared to support those claims, saying: “Human innards were found floating in the river, which are now undergoing DNA testing.”

But that claim was rejected by the Federal Police leading the search in Amazonas state.

The police assured the public that they would “immediately inform the families and the press” in the event of any such discovery.

The police say they have neither confirmed the discovery of any human remains, nor whether they belong to Mr Phillips, a Brazil-based contributor to the Guardian and a former writer for the Washington Post, or Bruno Pereira, an official at Brazil’s indigenous rights organisation.

Soon after denying it had found any bodies, the Federal Police and local indigenous groups resumed their search for the two men on the Itui River yesterday morning, within the Javari Valley indigenous reserve.

The Brazilian embassy in London has not replied to a request for comment.

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On Sunday, items belonging to Mr Pereira were found by a search team, including a health identification card in his name, and a backpack with clothes belonging to Mr Phillips, along with the boots of both men.

Mr Phillips and Mr Pereira were last seen travelling along a river close to the Javari Valley in the Amazon on June 5.

The men were researching for a book on conservation in the Amazon near the border with Peru and Colombia that is home to the world’s largest number of uncontacted indigenous people.

The vast, remote region has come under increasing pressure from cocaine-smuggling gangs, along with illegal loggers, miners and hunters.

Mr Sherwood told the Washington Post: “Dom was a courageous guy. He was doing something that he thought was really important.

“He must have known he was taking risks, and we hope not only that justice be delivered, but the book he was writing get published and the story gets told.”

Environmentalists and human rights activists had put pressure on the Brazilian president to do more to aid the search.

Mr Bolsonaro, who last year faced tough questioning from Mr Phillips about weakening environmental law enforcement in Brazil, said last week that the two men “were on an adventure that is not recommended”.

Speaking to Brazilian media yesterday, he said: “The indications are that something wicked was done to them.”

State police said they are focusing their inquiry on poachers and illegal fishermen who clashed often with Mr Pereira as he organised patrols of the local reservation.

Police have arrested one suspect, fisherman Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, who was accused of threatening the pair. He denies any wrongdoing. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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