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Dom Phillips: Amazon search ‘nearing end’ for missing British journalist and his guide

The search for missing British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest was nearing the end on Tuesday, as the area left to search grows smaller, a spokesman for indigenous group Univaja said. 

The hunt for the pair continued as the mystery surrounding their disappearance was confused on Monday by conflicting reports.

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro announced yesterday that human remains had been found in the search, saying ‘something wicked’ had been done to them.

Meanwhile, relatives of the veteran correspondent and respected indigenous specialist said authorities informed them two bodies had been found ‘tied to a tree’.

However, Police and local indigenous leaders later denied the reports that said remains had been discovered, adding to confusion around the case.

The families of Phillips, 57, and Pereira, 41, have endured an anguished wait for news since the pair disappeared a week ago Sunday.

It is believed they were on a trip to Brazil’s Javari Valley, a remote jungle region rife with illegal fishing, logging, mining and drug trafficking.

The Amazon hunt for missing British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira was set to continue today. Pictured: Indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest take part in the search for the missing men in in Vale do Javari on Monday

Veteran correspondent Dom Phillips and respected indigenous specialist Bruno Pereira, are believed to have gone missing in Vale do Javari, municipality of Atalaia do Norte, state of Amazonas, on Monday

Veteran correspondent Dom Phillips and respected indigenous specialist Bruno Pereira, are believed to have gone missing in Vale do Javari, municipality of Atalaia do Norte, state of Amazonas, on Monday

Pictured: Boats belonging to members of the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley (UNIVAJA) are seen in this aerial photograph during the search for the two missing men

Pictured: Boats belonging to members of the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley (UNIVAJA) are seen in this aerial photograph during the search for the two missing men

The families of veteran correspondent Dom Phillips (pictured), 57, and Pereira, 41, have endured an anguished wait for news since the pair disappeared a week ago Sunday

 The families of veteran correspondent Dom Phillips (pictured), 57, and Pereira, 41, have endured an anguished wait for news since the pair disappeared a week ago Sunday

Bruno Araújo Pereira, an expert on the indigenous peoples of the Amazon, also went missing with his health ID card and clothes found alongside Mr Phillips' backpack

Bruno Araújo Pereira, an expert on the indigenous peoples of the Amazon, also went missing with his health ID card and clothes found alongside Mr Phillips’ backpack

‘The indications are that something wicked was done to them,’ Bolsonaro said, claiming that ‘human innards were found floating in the river, which are now undergoing DNA testing.’

The development came a day after police said they had found personal items belonging to the two men, including Pereira’s health card, trousers and boots, as well as Phillips’s backpack and clothing.

Bolsonaro, whose government has faced accusations of failing to act urgently enough in the case, said hope was fading with each passing day.

‘Because of the time that’s passed – eight days now, approaching the ninth – it’s going to be very difficult to find them alive,’ the president told CBN Recife radio on Monday. ‘I pray to God for that to happen, but the information and evidence we’re getting suggest the opposite.’

Bolsonaro’s comments confirmed those by the families of the missing men that remains had been discovered, although the circumstances appeared to differ. 

Police officials later denied what the families were saying.

Mr Phillips’ brother-in-law Paul Sherwood told The Guardian yesterday: ‘[The ambassador] said he wanted us to know that… they had found two bodies.

‘He didn’t describe the location and just said it was in the rainforest and he said they were tied to a tree and they hadn’t been identified yet. He said that when it was light, or when it was possible they would do an identification.’

Mr Phillips’ wife Alessandra Sampaio also confirmed the discovery of the two bodies and niece Dominique Davies told AFP via text message that ‘two bodies have been found’ in the search.

Maria Sampaio, Mr Phillips’ mother-in-law, said afterwards she believed the two men ‘are no longer with us’ and had ‘given their lives in defence of the rainforest.’

Alessandra Sampaio, who had earlier made a tearful appeal for her husband’s return, reposted the sentiment and said she agreed.

Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro (pictured last week) announced yesterday that human remains had been found in the search, saying 'something wicked' had been done to them

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro (pictured last week) announced yesterday that human remains had been found in the search, saying ‘something wicked’ had been done to them

Pictured: An indigenous member of the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley trecks through the rainforest during the search for Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira

Pictured: An indigenous member of the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley trecks through the rainforest during the search for Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira

Pictured: Indigenous members of the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley search for clues as to the whereabouts of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira

Pictured: Indigenous members of the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley search for clues as to the whereabouts of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira

Pictured: Indigenous members of the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley search for clues as to the whereabouts of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira

Pictured: Indigenous members of the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley search for clues as to the whereabouts of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira

Pictured: Boats belonging to indigenous members of the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley as they search for clues as to the whereabouts of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira

Pictured: Boats belonging to indigenous members of the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley as they search for clues as to the whereabouts of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira

‘They are no longer with us,’ Maria wrote on Instagram on Monday. ‘Mother nature has snatched them away with a grateful embrace. The material has been undone and incorporated into the earth they so loved and respected.

‘Their souls have joined those of so many others who gave their lives in defence of the rainforest and Indigenous peoples.

‘Today they form part of an immense and pulsating vital energy that emanates from this immense greenery that is the heart of Brazil.’

Dominique Davies told AFP news agency via text message that authorities had informed the family two bodies had been found.

‘We are waiting on confirmation from the federal police (in Brazil) as to whether they are Dom and Bruno. We all remain upset and distressed at this time,’ she said.

However, federal police later said in a statement that reports that Phillips and Pereira’s bodies had been found were incorrect. 

The Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley (UNIVAJA), which is taking part in the search, also denied two bodies had been found.

The police have confirmed they are analysing a blood sample and suspected human remains found during the search to determine whether they are from the missing men. They said the results of these analyses are expected ‘during this week.’

Indigenous people march to protest against the disappearance of Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and freelance British journalist Dom Phillips, in Atalaia do Norte, Vale do Javari, Amazonas state, Brazil, Monday, June 13, 202

Indigenous people march to protest against the disappearance of Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and freelance British journalist Dom Phillips, in Atalaia do Norte, Vale do Javari, Amazonas state, Brazil, Monday, June 13, 202

Dozens of indigenous protesters marched Monday (pictured) in Atalaia do Norte, the small city Phillips and Pereira had been headed to, demanding answers on their whereabouts

Dozens of indigenous protesters marched Monday (pictured) in Atalaia do Norte, the small city Phillips and Pereira had been headed to, demanding answers on their whereabouts

Pictured: Indigenous people protest over the disappearance of Phillips and Pereira on Monday

Pictured: Indigenous people protest over the disappearance of Phillips and Pereira on Monday

People hold signs during a vigil following the disappearance of British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira in front of the headquarters of Brazil's National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), in Brasilia, Brazil June 13, 2022

People hold signs during a vigil following the disappearance of British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira in front of the headquarters of Brazil’s National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), in Brasilia, Brazil June 13, 2022

A woman cries during a demonstration to protest the disappearance, in the Amazon, of British journalist Dom Phillips and expert on indigenous affairs Bruno Araujo Pereira, in Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, June 12, 2022

A woman cries during a demonstration to protest the disappearance, in the Amazon, of British journalist Dom Phillips and expert on indigenous affairs Bruno Araujo Pereira, in Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Javari region is an area notorious for illegal mining and drug trafficking, and the pair had reportedly faced threats before their disappearance

The Javari region is an area notorious for illegal mining and drug trafficking, and the pair had reportedly faced threats before their disappearance

Meanwhile, a suspect – 41-year-old Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira – was arrested after finding traces of blood on his fishing boat along with illegal ammunition.

Samples of the blood are on their way from the western Vale do Javri region of the Amazon, a vast area the size of Ireland and Wales combined, to government laboratories in the jungle capital of Manaus for analysis.

In the meantime, a judge has granted police permission to continue holding Mr Oliveira – known as ‘Pelado’ – for further questioning.

He has pleaded innocence, saying he is a fisherman and the ammunition he was carrying was used for his trade. 

Alessandra Sampaio, Mr Phillips' wife, said bodies have been found in the Amazon

Alessandra Sampaio, Mr Phillips’ wife, said bodies have been found in the Amazon

Earlier, Elizeu Mayaruna, who works for indigenous agency Funai, told Reuters that, while searching the forest along the Itacoai river on Saturday, he found clothes, a tarp and a bottle of motor oil.

Mayaruna and two other members of an indigenous search team acquainted with Pereira, a former Funai official, said they recognised a shirt and pants that belonged to him.

Witnesses said they saw Pereira and Phillips, a freelance reporter who has written for the Guardian and the Washington Post, travelling down that river last Sunday.

The two men were on a reporting trip in the remote jungle area near the border with Peru and Colombia that is home to the world’s largest number of uncontacted indigenous people. 

The wild and lawless region has lured cocaine-smuggling gangs, along with illegal loggers, miners and hunters.

News of the pair’s disappearance resonated globally, with Brazilian icons from soccer great Pele to singer Caetano Veloso joining politicians, environmentalists and human rights activists in urging President Jair Bolsonaro to step up the search.

Reuters witnesses saw the stretch of riverbank were Mayaruna discovered the clothing cordoned off by police on Sunday morning as investigators scoured the area, with a half dozen boats ferrying police, soldiers and firefighters back and forth.

Federal police officers arrive at the pier with items found during a search for Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and freelance British journalist Dom Phillips in Atalaia do Norte, Amazonas state, Brazil, Sunday, June 12

Federal police officers arrive at the pier with items found during a search for Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and freelance British journalist Dom Phillips in Atalaia do Norte, Amazonas state, Brazil, Sunday, June 12

Police officers and rescue team members sit on a boat during the search operation for British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira on Sunday

Police officers and rescue team members sit on a boat during the search operation for British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira on Sunday

Phillips talks to two indigenous men while visiting a community in Roraima, Brazil, on November 16, 2019

Phillips talks to two indigenous men while visiting a community in Roraima, Brazil, on November 16, 2019

Bruno Pereira takes part in an Indigenous protest in Brasilia, Brazil, 2019 in this picture obtained by Reuters on June 10, 202

Bruno Pereira takes part in an Indigenous protest in Brasilia, Brazil, 2019 in this picture obtained by Reuters on June 10, 202

Bolsonaro, who last year faced tough questioning from Phillips at news conferences about weakening environmental law enforcement in Brazil, said last week that the two men ‘were on an adventure that is not recommended’ and suggested that they could have been executed.

State police detectives involved in the investigation have told Reuters they are focusing on poachers and illegal fisherman in the area, who clashed often with Pereira as he organised indigenous patrols of the local reservation.

Some 150 soldiers had been deployed via riverboats to hunt for the missing men and interview locals, joining indigenous search teams who have been looking for the pair for a week.  

Amariledo 'Pelado' da Costa was taken into custody by authorities in Amazonas, Brazil. His family claim he has been waterboarded by police in an effort to extract a confession

Amariledo ‘Pelado’ da Costa was taken into custody by authorities in Amazonas, Brazil. His family claim he has been waterboarded by police in an effort to extract a confession

Meanwhile, Brazil’s government faces pressure from international media organizations, rights groups and high-profile figures over the case – fueling criticism of Bolsonaro’s policies on the Amazon, where illegal deforestation and other environmental crimes have surged since he took office in 2019.

Dozens of indigenous protesters marched Monday in Atalaia do Norte, the small city Phillips and Pereira had been headed to, demanding answers on their whereabouts.

‘It’s been a week… and every day brings conflicting reports,’ Natalie Southwick, Latin America coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said in a statement.

‘CPJ remains deeply concerned about the government’s insufficient response and lack of transparency. Brazilian authorities must stop dragging their feet.’

Irish rock band U2 became the latest to rally to the cause, joining Brazilian football legend Pele and iconic singer Caetano Veloso.

‘We are waiting to find out what has happened to these courageous men,’ the band tweeted, along with a red-and-black drawing of the pair by artist Cristiano Siqueira that has gone viral.

‘Where are Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira?’ it reads. 

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Read more at DailyMail.co.uk