Human remains found deep in the remote Brazilian Amazon have been identified as belonging to British journalist Dom Phillips after he and a Brazilian indigenous expert went missing two weeks ago, federal authorities announced on Friday.
Other remains recovered near the western town of Atalaia do Norte are believed to belong to Indigenous expert, 41-year-old Bruno Pereira, but have not yet been officially identified.
Phillips, 57, and Pereira were last seen on June 5 on their boat on the Itaquai River near the entrance to the Javari Valley indigenous territory along the Peru-Colombia border. The case quickly attracted international attention.
“The confirmation (of Phillips’ remains) was made on the basis of dental examinations and anthropological forensics,” federal police said in a statement. “A full identification of the remains is being worked on so that we can determine the cause of death as well as the dynamics of the crime and the hiding of the bodies.”
Two suspects, fisherman Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira and his brother Oseney da Costa de Oliveira, were arrested by Brazil’s federal police on Wednesday in connection with their disappearance.
Police said Amarildo, whose nickname is Pelado, confessed to shooting and killing both men Tuesday night. He then led authorities to the area where remains were found.
The Mirror, citing a report by local Brazilian broadcaster Band Jornalismo, reported that the men “surrendered and [were] taken to a ditch where they were killed and their bodies quartered and set on fire.”
The remains had arrived in the capital Brasilia on Thursday for forensics to work, officials said. Police said more arrests could follow, but it did not appear that organized crime groups were involved.
The men’s bodies were found in a region where violent clashes have broken out between fishermen, poachers and government agents.
UNIVAJA, the local indigenous association Pereira worked for, said the government failed to take into account that the men may have been targeted by a criminal organization that funded illegal fishing and poaching in the Javari Valley indigenous territory.
“Because of this, Bruno Pereira became one of the main targets of this criminal group, along with other UNIVAJA members who received death threats,” the statement said.
President Jair Bolsonaro, an outspoken critic of journalists and Indigenous experts, has been criticized for not acting quickly enough on the couple’s disappearance. With no evidence, he claimed in an interview that locals in the area didn’t like Philips and that he should have been more careful.
Efforts to find the journalists and experts were started by indigenous peoples in the region. Indigenous people who were with Pereira and Phillips said Pelado pointed a gun at them the day before he disappeared.
Search teams found a tarp from the men’s boat on the Itaquai River. They soon recovered a backpack, laptop and other personal belongings that were submerged under the water on Sunday.
Authorities said one of their main lines of inquiry pointed to an international “fish mafia” that pays poor fishermen to fish illegally in the Javari Valley Reserve, Brazil’s second-largest indigenous territory.
The police also haven’t ruled out other lines of their investigation, such as drug trafficking.
On Friday, a US State Department spokesman said Ned Price, Phillips and Pereira were “murdered for helping protect the rainforest and the indigenous people who live there.”