Brazilian police find possible human remains in search for journalist, researcher

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Members of the Brazilian armed forces, federal police and civil police carry out operations Thursday during their search for British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Araujo Pereira. Photo courtesy of the Brazilian Federal Police/EPA-EFE

June 11 (UPI) — Brazilian police said they’ve found what appears to be human remains in their search for a missing British journalist and Indigenous expert in the Amazon.

The potentially grim news came Friday, five days after journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian Indigenous researcher Bruno Araújo Pereira failed to show up in Atalaia do Norte following a research trip they took on the river.

“Search teams found on the river, near to Atalaia do Norte, apparently human organic material,” Brazil’s federal police said in a statement, according to The Guardian.

Phillips is a longtime contributor to The Guardian.

Police said they’re sending the material, along with blood found on a suspect’s boat, for forensic analysis, Sky News reported.

Amazonas state security Secretary-General Carlos Alberto Mansir said Wednesday that authorities arrested a man who was in possession of “a lot of drugs” and ammunition believed to be used for illegal hunting.

Police also questioned five other people suspected of being involved in the disappearances. Authorities said they were considering all possibilities, including homicide.

The Guardian reported that many searchers and Indigenous activists believe Phillips and Pereira were the victims of illegal hunting and fishing gangs in the area. Carol Santana, a legal adviser for the Javari Indigenous association, told the newspaper that activists believe the two may be the victims of “forced disappearances.”

“We are not necessarily saying they’re no longer alive,” she said.

The two were reported missing Monday after they received death threats.

Phillips was working on a book about the environment and was traveling with Pereira, who has received numerous death threats for defending Indigenous groups against illegal mining, fishing and logging.

The two men were last seen riding on a boat in the Itui and Itaqui rivers after a multi-day visit with Indigenous communities, according to a statement from the Union of Indigenous Organizations of Javari Valley and the Observatory for Human Rights for Isolated and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples.

The pair was expected to return by river to Altalaia do Norte by Sunday morning. A search party was sent out that afternoon when they failed to arrive.

Sheri Walsh contributed to this report.

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