Man confesses to killing indigenous journalist and activist, police say

BRASÍLIA, Brazil – A fisherman confessed he helped kill a British journalist and a Brazilian expert on indigenous peoples and then went with authorities to search for their bodies on Wednesday, according to reports. Brazilian federal police. It was a grim breakthrough in the 10-day search for missing men deep in the Amazon that has pierced Brazil and sparked worldwide outrage.

However, as of Wednesday afternoon, federal police said the bodies of the two men had yet to be recovered.

Tahuana Marques, a spokeswoman for Brazil’s federal police, said one of the two brothers detained by police during the investigation confessed to killing the missing men. Ms. Marques also confirmed that federal police had put a suspect on a boat to find the bodies of the missing men. It is not clear which of the suspects have confessed.

Police led a man covered by a hoodie onto a boat Wednesday morning in Atalaia do Norte, a small jungle city at the center of the investigation.

Dom Phillips, a freelance reporter for The Guardian, and Bruno Araújo Pereira, a former government official who worked in the area to combat illegal fishing and fishing, disappeared on June 5 while in the middle of a mission. cruise on the Itaquaí River in a remote area of ​​the Amazon near the border with Peru and Colombia.

Mr. Phillips was in the area to interview Indigenous patrols that have cracked down on illegal fishing and hunting. Mr. Pereira helped run those patrols, which for months led to threats from illegal fishermen and hunters. Mr. Phillips was working on a book during the trip and the two men were returning home when they disappeared.

Brazilian federal police on Tuesday said brothers Amarildo and Oseney da Costa de Oliveira are being held as suspects in the murder investigation, although they have yet to be charged.

Witnesses saw the brothers in a boat behind Mr. Phillips and Mr. Pereira shortly before they were last seen, according to Brazilian federal police investigative documents seen by the New York Times.

Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira had threatened Mr. Pereira in the past, according to the documents. A local association of Indigenous groups that helped organize the patrols said he had also shown a gun to a group including Mr Pereira and Mr Phillips the day before they disappeared.

Brazil has faced growing international pressure to step up its response to the disappearances of the two men. During an exchange in the British Parliament on Wednesday, Theresa May, the former prime minister, asked the government to make “this case a diplomatic priority” and “do everything possible to ensure that authorities blame Brazil for devoting the necessary resources to uncovering the truth. and find out what happened to Dom and Bruno. “

The Amazon has for decades been ravaged by violence between those who want to grow rainforests for profit and those trying to stop them. The state of Amazonas, where Mr. Phillips and Mr. Pereira went missing, has experienced increased deforestation in recent years and is one of the worst-affected areas.

The Javari Valley is plagued by illegal fishing, hunting and mining, a problem exacerbated by government budget cuts under President Jair Bolsonaro. Now, local natives have officially begun to patrol the forests and rivers themselves, and the men who exploit the land for a living have responded with increasingly menacing threats.

Around 6 a.m. on June 4, Mr. Phillips and Mr. Pereira were on patrol, stopping along a winding river when another boat approached, according to officials at Univaja, an indigenous peoples association. in the Javari Valley helping organize patrols. Univaja said the approaching boat was carrying three men believed to be fishing illegally and when it passed, the men showed their guns to the patrol boat. That is the kind of threat that Univaja recently reported to the authorities.

The next morning, Mr. Phillips and Mr. Pereira began their journey home, cruising the Itaquaí River in a new boat with a 40-horsepower engine and enough fuel for the trip. They are expected to arrive at Atalaia do Norte, on the border with Peru, at around 8 a.m. on June 5.

Phillips and Pereira’s disappearances sparked global outrage and forced Bolsonaro to defend the government’s response to the crisis and his broader policies in the Amazon. Mr Bolsonaro said his government was working “tirelessly” to find Mr Phillips and Mr Pereira, but he had also tried to shift responsibility to the two missing men.

On Wednesday, he said Mr Phillips ‘didn’t like being in this part of the Amazon because of his reporting of illegal activities and thought it was “stupid” to go to the area unarmed.

Mr Bolsonaro said: “He should have been very careful and he decided to do an excursion. “We don’t know if someone saw him and went after him; there are pirates on the river, there is everything you can imagine there. ”

André Spigariol reporting from Brasilia, Brazil; Jack Nicas from Manaus, Brazil; and Ana Ionova from Rio de Janeiro. Victor Moriyama Reporting contributions from Atalaia do Norte, Brazil.

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