ATALAIA DO NORTE, BRAZIL (AFP) – Human remains have been found in the search for a British journalist and Brazilian indigenous expert who disappeared deep in the Amazon after receiving threats, Brazil’s president confirmed on Monday.
Relatives of veteran correspondent Dom Phillips and respected indigenous specialist Bruno Pereira meanwhile said authorities informed them two bodies had been found – though police and local indigenous leaders denied that, adding to confusion around the case.
The families of Phillips, 57, and Pereira, 41, have endured an anguished wait since the pair disappeared a week ago during a reporting trip to Brazil’s Javari Valley, a remote region rife with illegal fishing, logging and drug trafficking.
“The evidence leads us to believe something bad was done to them, because human innards were found floating in the river, which are now undergoing DNA testing,” President Jair Bolsonaro said.
The development came a day after police said they had found personal items belonging to the two.
Bolsonaro also said hope was fading. “Because of the time that’s passed – eight days now, approaching the ninth – it’s going to be very difficult to find them alive,” the president told CBN Recife radio.
Phillips’s niece Dominique Davies told AFP that authorities had informed the family two bodies had been found. Britain’s Guardian newspaper, where Phillips was a regular contributor, said the bodies were found tied to a tree, according to information from an aide to Brazil’s ambassador in London.
Federal police said in a statement that reports that Phillips and Pereira’s bodies had been found were incorrect.
The Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley (UNIVAJA), which is taking part in the search, also denied two bodies had been found.
The police have confirmed they are analysing a blood sample and suspected human remains found during the search. They said the results of these analyses are expected “this week”.
Brazilian police have arrested a suspect in the case, 41-year-old Amarildo Costa de Oliveira, nicknamed “Pelado”.
Witnesses said they saw him threaten Phillips and Pereira, then pursue them in his boat before they disappeared. The blood sample was found on a tarp in Oliveira’s boat.