(Manaus) Ten days after the disappearance of British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian expert Bruno Pereira in the Amazon, the worst fears were confirmed on Wednesday: a suspect admitted to burying their bodies and “human remains” were found at research sites .
Updated yesterday at 10:02pm.
“Last night we received the confession of the first of the two arrested suspects […] who reported in detail about the crimes and told us where the bodies were buried,” said the head of the Federal Police of the Amazonas state, Eduardo Alexandre Fontes, during a press conference in Manaus (north).
The police officer said the suspect, a 41-year-old fisherman named Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, has admitted taking part in the “crime” but without specifying his role. The fisherman had been taken to the search site by the police to show them the exact location.
“The excavations have been carried out on site, excavations are ongoing, but human remains have already been found,” Mr Fontes added. “Once we have been able to verify, thanks to the expertise, that these are indeed the remains of the bodies of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira, they will be returned to the families.”
The journalist’s Brazilian wife, Alessandra Sampaio, in a statement thanked “all the teams that carried out the research, especially the indigenous volunteers,” whose absence from the press conference was criticized by many observers.
“Even though we’re still awaiting the final confirmations, this tragic result puts an end to the fear of not knowing where Dom and Bruno have been. Now we can take her home and say goodbye in love,” she said.
“Today we also begin our fight for justice […] We will only have peace when the necessary measures are taken to ensure that such tragedies do not happen again.”
The British journalist and the Brazilian expert were last seen on June 5 during an expedition to the Javari Valley.
This region near the border with Peru and Colombia is considered to be very dangerous, there is a lot of drug trafficking, fishing and illegal gold panning.
It has in recent years become a strategic axis for gangs of drug traffickers who transport cocaine or cannabis produced in neighboring countries along the river.
The author of dozens of reports on the Amazon, Dom Phillips, 57, who has lived in Brazil for 15 years, had traveled to the region again as part of research for a book on conservation.
Bruno Pereira, 41, a recognized expert and defender of indigenous peoples’ rights, worked for many years at Brazil’s government agency for indigenous affairs (Funai).
In particular, he oversaw the FUNAI office in Atalaia do Norte (Northwest), a location where the two men were to return by boat after their disappearance, and a program to protect isolated indigenous groups in the area.
Bruno Pereira, father of three, has repeatedly said he has been the target of threats from loggers, miners and illegal fishermen trying to invade protected lands.
The disappearance of the two men has sparked outrage around the world, with reactions from high-profile politicians and celebrities including members of Irish rock band U2.
Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who favors mining and management of indigenous reserves in the Amazon, has been heavily criticized for describing the two men’s expedition as an “unsavory adventure”.
On Wednesday, he claimed Dom Phillips was “frowned upon” in the Amazon for writing “many reports against gold miners and about the environment.” “A lot of people didn’t like being in this very remote area,” he added.
“It’s very sad,” said former leftist President Lula da Silva (2003-2011), the 2022 presidential candidate, in response to the federal police statement. “People who died defending tribal lands and the environment. It can’t be Brazil,” he wrote on Twitter.