By FABIANNO MASONNAVE, EDMAR BARROS and Mauricio Savarese
MANUS, Brazil ( Associated Press) – A fisherman in Brazil’s remote Amazon has confessed to killing a British journalist and an indigenous expert and led police to the site where human remains were recovered, a federal investigator said in 10 days. The teams searched, ending the mystery of the . missing pair.
Authorities said Wednesday night without details they expected more arrests to be made soon in the case of freelance journalist Dom Phillips and Brazil’s Bruno Pereira, who disappeared on June 5.
At a news conference in the Amazon city of Manaus, a federal police investigator said the prime suspect confessed Tuesday night and detailed what happened to Phillips and Pereira. Investigator Eduardo Alexandre Fontes said 41-year-old Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, nicknamed Pelado, told officers that he used a shotgun to kill the men.
“Without a confession, we would have no way of getting to that spot quickly,” Torres said of the site where police led by Pelado recovered human remains on Wednesday.
Torres said the remains were expected to be identified within a few days, and that if confirmed as missing, “the families of both would be returned.”
“We found bodies three kilometers (about two miles) into the woods,” the investigator said, adding that officials traveled about an hour and forty minutes by boat on a river and more than 25 to reach the burial site in the woods. traveled.
Pellado’s family has previously said that he denied any wrongdoing and claimed that police tortured him to try to confess.
Another Amazonas state police officer, Guilherme Torres, said the boat of the missing men had not yet been found, but that police knew the area where those involved in the crime hid it.
“They put bags of dirt on the boat so that it would sink,” he said. According to investigators, the boat’s engine has been removed.
The news conference at Brazil’s Federal Police Headquarters in Manaus was also attended by military leaders who joined the effort to find Phillips and Pereira days after they were reported missing.
President Jair Bolsonaro, a frequent critic of journalists and indigenous experts, has criticized the government for not getting involved fast enough. Earlier on Wednesday, he criticized Phillips in an interview, saying without evidence that the local people in the area where he went missing did not like him and that he should have been more careful in the area.
Efforts to find both were initiated by the indigenous people of the region. UNIVAJA, a union of the indigenous peoples of the Javari Valley, mourned the loss of “two partners” in a statement on Wednesday, saying they had only received help and protection from the local police.
As the federal police announced they would hold a news conference, Pereira’s aides called a vigil outside the headquarters of the Brazilian government’s indigenous affairs agency in Brasilia. Perera was on leave from the agency.
Pereira, 41, and Phillips, 57, were last seen on their boat in a river near the entrance to the Javari Valley indigenous region, which borders Peru and Colombia. There have been violent conflicts between fishermen, poachers and government agents in that area.
Events began to escalate on Wednesday when federal police officers took a suspect after they failed to identify in time the search teams looking for Phillips and Pereira on the river.
In Atalia do Norte, the city closest to the search area, an Associated Press photographer watched police apprehend the suspect, who was in a hood.
Police said on Tuesday that they had arrested a second suspect in connection with the disappearance. He was identified as 41-year-old Oceni da Costa de Oliveira, a fisherman and a brother of Pellado, who had already been painted by police as their prime suspects.
Police investigators said Wednesday that de Oliveira had not admitted any involvement in the crime, but said they had evidence against him.
Indigenous people living with Pereira and Phillips have said that Pellado had fired a rifle at them the day before the pair went missing.
The official search team focused its efforts around a spot on the Itakai River, where a tarp was found on Saturday from a boat used by the missing people by volunteers of the Matisse indigenous group.
Authorities began searching the area and found a backpack, laptop and other personal belongings submerged in water on Sunday. Police said in the evening they had identified the two missing people as belongings, which included a health card and Perera’s clothes. The backpack is said to be from Philips.
Police had earlier reported traces of blood on Pellado’s boat. Officials also found organic matter of apparent human origin in the river which was sent for analysis.
Officials have said a main line of police investigations into the disappearances have pointed to an international network that pays poor fishermen for illegal fishing in the Javari Valley reserve, Brazil’s second-largest indigenous region. Is.
Pereira, who previously headed the local bureau of the federal Indigenous Agency known as FUNAI, took part in several campaigns against illegal fishing. In such operations, as a rule, fishing gear is confiscated or destroyed, while the fishermen are fined and detained for some time. Only indigenous people can legally catch fish in their territories.
“The motive of the crime is some personal squabble over the fishing inspection,” Atalia do Norte mayor Denis Paiva speculated to reporters without providing further details.
While some police, mayors and others in the area link the couple’s disappearance to the “fish mafia”, federal police have not ruled out other methods of investigation, such as narco smuggling.
Federal Police Officer Torres reiterated that point Wednesday night, saying he could not discuss the specifics of the investigation.
“We are dealing with multiple lines of investigation,” he said.
Following news of the human remains being recovered, Phillips’ wife, Alessandra Sampaio, said the discovery “ends the agony of not knowing the whereabouts of Dom and Bruno.”
“Now we can bring him home and say goodbye lovingly,” Sampao said in a statement. “Today, we also begin our search for justice.”
Maisonnave reported from Manaus and Savarese from So Paulo.