Disappearance of two men in the Amazon: what we know

Disappearance of two men in the Amazon: what we know

Who are the missing?

Born near Liverpool, England, Dom Phillips, 57, a regular contributor to British newspaper The Guardian, has lived in Brazil for 15 years.

Passionate about the Amazon, to which he has devoted dozens of reports, he had been in the region for several days as part of research for a book on the preservation of the environment in the region.

During this expedition, he was guided by Bruno Pereira, 41, an expert from Funai, the organization responsible for indigenous affairs in Brazil, and a recognized defender of indigenous rights. He had previously been coordinator of the regional branch of Funai in Atalaia do Norte, a town near the Peruvian border to which the two men were heading by boat when they were last seen. His work on behalf of indigenous peoples has earned him numerous threats from criminal groups that operate in the region.

The two men are married and Bruno Pereira is the father of three children.

Under what circumstances did they disappear?

Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira were last seen on the morning of Sunday June 5, when they left the town of Sao Gabriel, a few hours by boat from their destination, Atalaia do Norte.

They were traveling in a new boat, with enough gas for the trip.

They disappeared in the Javari Valley, near the second largest indigenous reserve in Brazil, where 26 indigenous peoples live, 19 of them in total isolation.

This region, which is difficult to access, is located in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, on the triple border between Brazil, Peru and Colombia, where the State has very little influence and where gangs operate that combine drug trafficking and environmental crimes such as timber smuggling and illegal fishing.

Two suspects arrested

Research is carried out by agents of the security forces, in particular the army and the Federal Police, but also by volunteers from indigenous associations.

On Sunday, authorities announced that personal effects of the two missing had been found, including boots, clothing and a health insurance card. According to the firefighters, these objects were found in a backpack tied to a tree under water, in a flooded area near the home of Amarildo da Costa Oliveira.

This 41-year-old fisherman was seen by witnesses following at high speed the boat in which Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira were on June 5. Police identified traces of blood in the boat of the suspect, who denied any involvement in the disappearance of the two men.

A second suspect, Oseney da Costa de Oliveira, known as “Dos Santos”, of the same age, was arrested on Tuesday. The police seized firearm cartridges and a paddle, without specifying whether these objects were found in the same place where “Dos Santos” was arrested.

No link between the two suspects has yet been specified by official sources, but according to the Brazilian portal G1, they are brothers.

Other traces of blood and “apparently human organic matter” were found on Friday and are being analyzed. The results are expected by the end of the week.

President Jair Bolsonaro spoke on Monday of “human viscera found floating on the river and brought to Brasilia to identify the DNA”, without specifying whether it was this organic material found on Friday by the police. “We do not know what type of organic matter was found, but it is not viscera, there have never been viscera”, assured Tuesday Elisio Marubo, of the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Valley of Javari (Univaja).

A “distressing” situation

On Monday, conflicting information circulated around bodies that were found during the search.

Family members of Dom Phillips said the Brazilian embassy in London assured them that two bodies were being identified, a report denied by the Federal Police. In a statement on Tuesday, the Briton’s family lamented the confusion “which only complicates an already distressing situation”.