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Brazilian police say bodies found in Amazon after suspect killed known missing men

Police have found human remains in their search for British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Pereira after a suspect confessed to killing them in the Amazon rainforest, investigators said Wednesday.

The suspect, a fisherman who had clashed with Pereira over his efforts to fight illegal fishing in indigenous territory, led police to a remote cemetery where the remains were exhumed, Detective Eduardo Fontes told a news conference.

The news marks a stark conclusion to a case that has raised global alarm, hung President Jair Bolsonaro at a regional summit and sparked concern in the British Parliament.

Phillips, a freelance reporter who has written for the Guardian and the Washington Post, was researching for a book about the journey with Pereira, a former chief of isolated and recently contacted tribes at the federal agency for indigenous affairs Funai.

They were in a remote jungle area near the borders with Colombia and Peru called the Javari Valley, which is home to the world’s largest number of uncontacted indigenous people. The region has been invaded by illegal fishermen, hunters, loggers and miners, and police say it is a major drug trafficking route.

Police had previously identified their prime suspect as fisherman Amarildo da Costa, known as “Pelado”, who was arrested last week on charges of gun possession. His brother Oseney da Costa, 41, or ‘Dos Santos’, was taken into custody on Tuesday night.

Public defenders for the brothers were not immediately available for comment. The suspects’ families had previously denied that they had played a role in the disappearance of the men.

Detective Fontes told reporters that the “first suspect” had confessed and led police to the human remains, but the other suspect in custody had denied any role despite incriminating evidence. Police are investigating the involvement of a third person and further arrests are possible, he added.

The Costa brothers met on the Itacoai River moments after Phillips and Pereira passed by on June 5, en route to the riverside town of Atalaia do Norte, a witness told federal police in a report reviewed by Reuters.

According to the police report, witnesses heard Pereira say he had received threats from Amarildo da Costa. Pereira, a former official of the Funai Indigenous Affairs Bureau, had played a key role in stopping illegal gold mining, fishing and poaching along rivers inhabited by indigenous tribes of the Javari Valley.

News of the men’s disappearance reverberated worldwide, with human rights groups, environmentalists and press advocates urging Bolsonaro to step up the search after a slow start.

Bolsonaro, who was once heavily questioned by Phillips during a news conference about the weakening of environmental law enforcement, said last week the two men were “on an adventure not recommended”.

On Wednesday, Bolsonaro suggested that Phillips had made enemies by writing about environmental issues.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament on Wednesday that he is deeply concerned about Phillips’ disappearance and said his government is working with Brazilian authorities to investigate the matter.

(REUTERS)

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