Brazil police say remains found in Amazon are those of British journalist

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Federal police officers arrive with recovered human remains believed to be of the Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira of Brazil and freelance reporter Dom Phillips of Britain, at the Federal Police hangar in Brasília, Brazil, Thursday,, June 16, 2022. A federal police investigator said a suspect confessed to fatally shooting Pereira and Phillips in a remote part of the Amazon and took officers to where the bodies were buried. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Federal Police officers arrive with recovered human remains at the police hangar in Brasília, the Brazilian capital, on Thursday. (Eraldo Peres / Associated Press)

Brazil's Federal Police said Friday that human remains found in the remote Amazon have been identified as belonging to British journalist Dom Phillips, who went missing almost two weeks ago along with a Brazilian Indigenous culture expert in a case that drew world attention.

Additional remains found at the site near the Brazilian city of Atalaia do Norte have not yet been identified but are expected to belong to Indigenist Bruno Pereira, 41. The pair were last seen June 5 on their boat on the Itaquai River, near the entrance of the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory, which borders Peru and Colombia.

"The confirmation [of Phillips' remains] was made based on dental examinations and anthropological forensics," the Federal Police said in a statement. “Work is ongoing for a complete identification of the remains so we can determine the cause of death, and also the dynamics of the crime and the hiding of the bodies.”

The remains were found Wednesday after fisherman Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, nicknamed "Pelado," confessed he killed Phillips, 57, and Pereira, and led police to the site were the remains were found. He told officers he used a firearm to commit the crime.

Police also arrested Pelado’s brother, fisherman Oseney da Costa de Oliveira.

The remains had arrived in the capital city of Brasilia on Thursday for forensics work.

The area where Phillips and Pereira went missing has seen violent conflicts among fishermen, poachers and government agents.

Federal Police said that others may have participated in the crime but that organized criminal groups did not appear to be involved.

UNIVAJA, the local Indigenous association for whom Pereira was working, criticized that conclusion. It said in a statement the investigation had not considered the existence of a criminal organization financing illegal fishing and poaching in the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory.

“That was why Bruno Pereira became one of the main targets of this criminal group, as well as other UNIVAJA members who received death threats,” the statement said.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a frequent critic of journalists and Indigenous experts, has drawn criticism that the government didn’t get involved fast enough. Earlier, he criticized Phillips in an interview, saying without evidence that locals in the area where he went missing didn’t like him and that he should have been more careful in the region.

His main adversary in October’s election, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said in a statement that the killings “are directly related to the dismantling of public policies of protection to Indigenous peoples."

”It is also related to the current administration’s stimulus to violence,” said Lula, who leads Bolsonaro in opinion polls.

The efforts to find the missing pair were started by Indigenous peoples in the region.

Indigenous people who were with Pereira and Phillips have said that Pelado brandished a rifle at them on the day before the pair disappeared.

Official search teams concentrated their efforts around a spot on the Itaquai River where a tarp from the boat used by the missing men was found. Authorities began scouring the area and discovered a backpack, laptop and other personal belongings submerged underwater Sunday.

Authorities have said a main line of the police investigation into the disappearances has pointed to an international network that pays poor fishermen to fish illegally in the Javari Valley reserve, which is Brazil’s second-largest Indigenous territory.

Pereira, who previously led the local bureau of the federal Indigenous agency, known as FUNAI, took part in several operations against illegal fishing. In such operations, as a rule the fishing gear is seized or destroyed and the fishermen are fined and briefly detained. Only the Indigenous can legally fish in their territories.

Though some police, a mayor and others in the region link the pair’s disappearances to the “fish mafia,” Federal Police have not ruled out other lines of investigation, such as drug trafficking.

The case has put a global magnifying glass on violence in the Amazon.

Earlier on Friday, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Phillips and Pereira were “murdered for supporting conservation of the rainforest and native peoples there.”

“We call for accountability and justice — we must collectively strengthen efforts to protect environmental defenders and journalists," Price said.

Protests calling for justice for Phillips and Pereira are scheduled to take place in several Brazilian cities over the weekend.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.