Police in the Brazilian Amazon have found the bodies of two men in the area near where British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous activist Bruno Pereira disappeared 10 days ago.
At a press briefing on Wednesday evening, regional police chief Eduardo Fontes said one of the two men arrested in connection with the couple’s disappearance had confessed to killing them.
“On Tuesday he informed us where the bodies were buried and he promised to accompany us to the site today so that we could confirm where the bodies were buried,” Fontes told reporters.
“Because of the confessions, there is a good chance that it was them, but only a (legal) expertise can prove it,” he added.
The location identified by the suspect was an hour and 40 minutes launch from the town of Atalaia do Norte and 3.1 km on foot in dense forest.
The operation involved members of the army, navy and police as well as satellite imagery, drones and sniffer dogs.
“We will now identify the human remains with as much dignity as possible,” Fontes said. “When the remains are proven to be those of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira, they will be released to the families.”
The news was greeted with relief by Phillips’ wife, Alessandra Sampaio.
“Although we are still awaiting final confirmations, this tragic outcome puts an end to the anxiety of not knowing where Dom and Bruno are,” she wrote in a press release. “Now we can take them home and say goodbye with love.”
“Today we also begin our quest for justice. I hope the inquiries will exhaust all possibilities and provide definitive answers on all relevant details as soon as possible.
Fontes said search teams plan to return to the site on Thursday to locate the men’s boat. The men were last seen upstream towards Atalaia do Norte and Fontes claimed the suspects dumped the engine in the river and then filled the boat with bags of dirt to sink.
“We are still investigating,” he said, adding that further arrests were expected. “It was a significant step forward.”
Phillips, 57, and Pereira, 41, disappeared on June 5, at the end of a four-day trip down the Itaquaí River in the far west of Brazil.
Pereira was accompanying Phillips on a reporting trip for a book on sustainable development in the Amazon, but their boat did not arrive as planned in the town of Atalaia do Norte, not far from Brazil’s border with Peru.
When Pereira’s friends sailed downstream and found no trace of the men or their boat, they sounded the alarm.
However, Brazilian authorities were slow to respond and it was indigenous communities who knew Pereira well who made the first disturbing discovery on Saturday when they found backpacks, clothes and personal items belonging to the two submerged men near the banks of the river.
Police arrested a man on Wednesday, Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, but were unable to conclusively link him to their disappearance. He reportedly denied any involvement in the disappearances. Six days later they arrested his brother Oseney and charged him with “suspected aggravated murder”.
The investigation has been hampered by setbacks, from the slow response of Army and Navy search teams to the heavily criticized actions of the Brazilian Embassy in London, which Phillips’ family in the UK told United that his body had been found, only to recant. statement later.
Earlier on Wednesday, Boris Johnson said the UK government was “deeply concerned” about the case after Theresa May called on the Prime Minister to make the matter “a diplomatic priority”. May raised the matter during Prime Minister’s Questions, citing correspondence with Phillips’ niece, Dominique Davis, one of her constituents.
It also comes amid widespread criticism of Brazil’s policies on the environment and the approximately 235 indigenous tribes living in Brazil.
Deforestation has soared under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and government agencies dedicated to protecting the environment and indigenous communities have been undermined.
Pereira was a senior official at the state indigenous foundation tasked with protecting indigenous communities, but was removed from his post at the end of 2019 after leading an operation to destroy illegal mines operating on indigenous land.
Later, he began working with indigenous rights organizations in remote areas of the rainforest to help them map their territories and protect them from invasions by miners, loggers and drug traffickers active in the region.
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