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‘Exhaustive’ search fails to find Amazon murder victims' boat as tests begin on bodies

Fisherman Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, 41, confessed to killing the men and led officers to two buried bodies.

Federal police officers arrive at the pier with recovered human remains found during a search for Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira of Brazil and freelance reporter Dom Phillips.
Federal police officers arrive at the pier with recovered human remains found during a search for Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira of Brazil and freelance reporter Dom Phillips.
Image: Edmar Barros

BRAZIL’S FEDERAL POLICE are continuing to search for the missing boat of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira as investigators prepare to begin testing human remains found buried in the Amazon.

It comes as DNA testing of blood found in the boat of the man charged with their murders has indicated it is not that of the British journalist.

Investigators added that tests to determine if it was Pereira’s had so far proved inconclusive.

In a statement provided to the PA news agency this morning, police also said that despite “exhaustive searches” officers had so far failed to find the missing men’s boat.

Fisherman Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, 41, confessed to shooting the men and led officers to human remains he had buried in an area of the Amazon near where the pair disappeared.

In their latest announcement about the case, police reiterated that the remains have yet to be identified. They added that testing will begin today with results expected next week.

A federal police plane flew the remains into Brasilia yesterday evening.

The discovery of the human remains came after a ten-day search for the missing British journalist and his Brazilian companion who disappeared on 5 June.

Brazilian authorities have so far arrested two men in relation to the pair’s suspected murders. Yesterday, police said Mr da Costa de Oliveira – the prime suspect – confessed to using a firearm to kill Phillips and Pereira.

More arrests are expected to be made in the coming days.

Police gave no immediate explanation of a motive for the killing, but officials earlier suggested that Pereira’s work to stop illegal fishing in an indigenous reserve had angered local fishermen.

The family of Phillips reacted to the news of da Costa de Oliveira’s confession to his murder with heartbreak.

In a brief statement issued by his brother-in-law Paul Sherwood, Phillips’ UK-based loved ones said: “Early this morning we were informed that two bodies have been recovered from a remote location after a confession from one of the men in custody.

“We are heartbroken at the confirmation that Dom and Bruno were murdered and extend our deepest sympathies to Alessandra, Beatriz and the other Brazilian family members of both men.”

Friends and colleagues of the long-time campaigner for the Amazon and its indigenous people also paid tribute to the journalist.

Jonathan Watts, The Guardian’s global environment editor, said his long-time friend had died in “an undeclared global war against nature and the people who defend it”.

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In an opinion piece that was shared by Phillips’ bereaved family members, Watts also took aim at Brazilian authorities as well as president Jair Bolsonaro.

“The police refused to put a helicopter in the air after the two men were reported missing, and the military said it had the capacity to search but wasted more than a day while waiting for orders,” he wrote.

Watts said the president, who earlier accused Phillips and Pereira of taking an “adventure” that was “ill-advised”, had “encouraged illegal logging and mining, dismissed indigenous land rights, attacked conservation groups, and slashed the budgets and personnel of forest and indigenous protection agencies”.

He added that “what happened to Dom and Bruno is not a one-off: It is part of a global trend”.

“Over the past two decades, thousands of environment- and land-defenders have been killed worldwide. Brazil has been the most murderous country during that time,” Mr Watts said.

“Some of the deaths cause a global storm, such as those of Chico Mendes, Dorothy Stang and now Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips, but most go under-reported and uninvestigated.

“If anything useful can come from the latest horror, let it be a recognition that these are not isolated cases. Let journalists examine the patterns that link these crimes, let us tell stories off the beaten track, and let us try to find solutions to the planet’s problems, as Dom was trying to do,” he said. 

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