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Brazil police find two bodies in search for missing Amazon pair

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By Euronews  with AFP
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November 15, 2019 veteran foreign correspondent Dom Phillips (C) takes notes as he talks with indigenous people at the Aldeia Maloca Papiu, Roraima State, Brazil.
November 15, 2019 veteran foreign correspondent Dom Phillips (C) takes notes as he talks with indigenous people at the Aldeia Maloca Papiu, Roraima State, Brazil.   -   Copyright  JOAO LAET/AFP or licensors

Brazilian police have found two bodies in their search for the missing British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian expert Bruno Pereira in the Amazon.

At a Wednesday press briefing, police said they had discovered "human remains" at a site where they had been looking for the pair. 

They were led there by a suspect who also confessed to having buried the bodies.

Phillips and Pereira were last seen on 5 June. 

"Last night we obtained the confessions of the first of the two arrested suspects," said the regional police chief Eduardo Alexandre Fontes.

"[They] recounted in detail how the crime was committed and told us where the bodies had been buried," he added. 

Police are working with Interpol to confirm the identities of the bodies. 

"As soon as we have been able to verify, thanks to the expertise, that it is indeed the remains of the bodies of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira, they will be returned to the families," said Fontes.

The police chief said the suspect, a 41-year-old fisherman named Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, admitted to having participated in the "crime", yet has not specified his exact role. 

In a statement, Phillip's wife, Alessandra Sampaio, thanked "all the teams that carried out the research, especially the indigenous volunteers." 

"Although we are still awaiting final confirmations, this tragic ending puts an end to the anguish of not knowing where Dom and Bruno were," said Sampaio. "Now we can take them home and say goodbye with love." 

"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 ten-day search for the pair, which involved the military, police and local communities, has highlighted the dangers faced by those defending the environment and indigenous communities in Brazil. 

Having written extensively on the Amazon, long-term Brazil resident Dom Phillips, 57,  had travelled to the Javari Valley area to research environmental protection for a book.

He was accompanied by Bruno Pereira, 41, an expert and defender of the rights of indigenous peoples, who worked for several years at the Brazilian government agency for indigenous communities. 

The region they visited is considered dangerous and rife with drug trafficking, illegal gold panning and fishing.

In recent years, it has become a strategic pathway for drug gangs to bring cocaine and cannabis produced in neighbouring countries into Brazil. 

Pereira, a father of three, has said on multiple occasions he received threats from loggers, miners and illegal fishermen who tried to encroach on protected land. 

Far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who supports mining and farming in indigenous reserves in the Amazon, has been condemned for calling the two men's expedition an "unsavoury adventure."

On Wednesday, he claimed that Phillips was "frowned upon" in the Amazon because he had written "many reports against gold miners, on the environment." 

"In this very isolated area, a lot of people didn't like it," he added.

The discovery of the bodies has prompted outrage and sadness from other figures in Brazil. 

"It's very sad", said Lula da Silva, Brazil's 2022 presidential candidate, referring to the announcement of the police. 

"People who died defending indigenous lands and the environment. Brazil cannot be that," he wrote on Twitter.