Brazilian police looking for a British journalist and an indigenous expert who disappeared in a remote part of the Amazon rainforest say blood was found on a boat belonging to a local fisherman who was arrested.
Dom Phillips, a freelance journalist who has written about Brazil for The Guardian, The Washington Post, The New York Times and others, was last seen on sundaytraveling deep into a lawless part of the jungle with Bruno Araujo Pereira, a former employee of the federal indigenous agency Funai.
The pair were last seen over the weekend in Vale do Javari, in the state of Amazonas – near the border with Peru.
According to The Guardian, Pereira received several threats from loggers and miners in the region.
Two police detectives from the state of Amazonas directly involved in the case told the Reuters news agency that illegal fishing and poaching were likely behind the disappearance.
Police in the city of Atalaia do Norte questioned several fishermen as witnesses and arrested one of them, a local resident named Amarildo da Costa, known as “Pelado”, who was one of the last people to see the two men.
After searching da Costa’s boat for “possible genetic material”, one of the detectives on the case said police are now investigating whether the blood traces found were human or animal.
He is suspected of involvement in illegal fishing in indigenous areas.
His attorney, Davi Oliveira, said his client was not involved in Phillips and Pereira’s disappearance and was merely involved in legal fishing.
Region home to the largest number of uncontacted tribes in the world
The wild and undisciplined Javari region, where the couple were last seen, is home to the largest number of uncontacted indigenous people in the world.
It has also attracted cocaine traffickers, as well as illegal hunters and fishermen who travel through Vale do Javari to find protected species – such as arapaima – which are sold in regional markets.
Javari has grown increasingly tense and dangerous in recent years, and in 2019, Maxciel Pereira dos Santos, who was working with Funai to end illegal fishing in the valley, was shot dead in Tabatinga.
Politicians, celebrities, journalists and activists have called on President Jair Bolsonaro and his government to step up efforts to find Phillips and Pereira.
Brazilian Justice Minister Anderson Torres said he had told British Foreign Minister Vicky Ford that Brazil would continue the search for Phillips until all possibilities were exhausted.
Torres said he had 300 people, two aircraft and 20 boats carrying out searches in what he called a “very difficult region”.
“Even if you have 30 aircraft, a million people, it might not work,” said Torres, who was also pressured to keep up the search at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles by US climate envoy John Kerry.
‘Please find our dear Dom’
Phillip’s family urged the government to act.
Paul Sherwood, partner of Phillips’ sister Sian, wrote on Twitter: “We implore the Brazilian authorities to send the national guard, federal police and all the powers at their disposal to find our dear Dom.
“He loves Brazil and has dedicated his career to covering the Amazon rainforest. We understand that time is of the essence, so please find our Dom as soon as possible.”
Sian Phillips told Sky News she is concerned about illegal logging and drug trafficking in the area where he disappeared.
“I’m very anxious. I’m desperately worried. It’s your worst fear,” she said.
“We need everything. We want the UK authorities to put pressure on the Brazilian authorities to act.”