Reuters / Atalaia Do Norte
The search for missing British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest was nearing an end yesterday as the area left to be searched kept shrinking, a spokesman for the indigenous group Univaja said.
Phillips and Pereira went missing more than a week ago on an isolated stretch of the Itacoai River in far western Brazil near the border with Colombia and Peru.
Eliesio Marubo, a lawyer for Univaja, said indigenous searchers tipped off authorities after finding traces of men in the area, which helped focus the search.
“We understand that we are heading towards the end. The search area has been further reduced,” Marubo said Monday evening.
On Sunday, police said searchers found the two men’s belongings in a stream off the river near where they were last seen on June 5.
A Reuters witness observed yesterday that authorities had opened a wider channel in the brush leading to the creek where the personal effects were found, allowing larger boats access to extend the search.
In a letter to the Phillips family, reviewed by Reuters, Brazil’s ambassador to London apologized yesterday for passing on misinformation that bodies had been discovered.
Information received from investigators in Brazil misled the embassy, Ambassador Fred Arruda wrote, adding, “I apologize with all my heart.”
Brazil’s federal police said they expect to complete forensic analysis of a blood sample taken from the boat of a man suspected of a possible role in the case this week.
Sunday’s police statement said the missing men’s personal effects that were recovered included an ID card for Pereira. A firefighter from a search party told reporters about a backpack with clothing and a laptop strapped to a half-buried tree trunk.
Pereira, a former leader of isolated tribes and recently contacted at the government’s indigenous affairs agency Funai, was on a research trip with Phillips, a freelance journalist who writes for the Guardian and the Washington Post and is working on a book about the Amazonia. .
They were in the remote jungle that is home to the largest number of uncontacted natives in the world. The lawless region has attracted cocaine smuggling gangs, as well as loggers, miners and illegal hunters. News of the couple’s disappearance has echoed around the world, with human rights organisations, environmentalists and free press advocates urging Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to step up the search.
Indigenous protesters, carrying banners depicting the faces of the two men, marched to Brazil’s Justice Ministry in the capital Brasilia yesterday to demand justice and answers. Funai staff have gone on a day-long strike to demand greater security for indigenous experts working in the field.
Bolsonaro, who has faced toughs before
questioned by Phillips at a press conference about weakening environmental enforcement, said last week that the two men “were on an adventure that is not recommended” and speculated that they could have been executed.