Dom Phillips, indigenous expert and British writer, still missing in Brazil

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A British journalist and an indigenous affairs official were still missing in a remote part of Brazil’s Amazon on Tuesday as authorities said they were expanding search efforts in the area, which has known violent conflicts between fishermen, poachers and government agents.

Dom Phillips, who has been a regular contributor to the British newspaper The Guardian, and Bruno Araújo Pereira were last seen early Sunday in the community of Sao Rafael, according to the Univaja association of people from the indigenous territory of Vale do Javari, for which Pereira was an adviser.

The couple were returning by boat to the town of Atalaia do Norte, about an hour away, but never showed up.

Pereira is one of the most experienced employees of the Brazilian Indigenous Affairs Agency operating in the Vale do Javari region. He oversaw the agency’s regional office and the coordination of uncontacted indigenous groups before going on leave. He has received a barrage of threats from illegal fishermen and poachers, and usually carries a gun.

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Univaja said the two were threatened during their reporting trip. While camping on Saturday, a small group of men traveled by river to the edge of indigenous territory and brandished firearms at a patrol of Unijava, the president said. association, Paulo Marubo, to the Associated Press. Phillips photographed the men at the time, Marubo said.

Phillips, 57, has reported from Brazil for more than a decade and worked on a book on Amazon preservation with support from the Alicia Patterson Foundation, which gave him a one-year reporting grant environmental which took place until January.

The couple disappeared while returning from a two-day trip to the Lake Jaburu region, where Phillips interviewed local indigenous people, Univaja said. Only the two were on the boat.

The place where they disappeared is the main access route to Vale do Javari, the second largest indigenous territory in Brazil, which is larger than Maine and where several thousand indigenous people live in dozens of villages. Locals say it is highly unlikely that the men got lost in this area.

“He is a cautious journalist, with an impressive knowledge of the complexities of Brazil’s environmental crisis,” Margaret Engel, executive director of the Alicia Patterson Foundation, wrote in an email. “And he’s a beautiful writer and a lovely person. The best in our business.

Brazil’s federal prosecutors said in a statement on Monday that they have opened an investigation and that the federal police, the Amazonas state civil police, the national guard and the navy have been mobilized. The Navy, which prosecutors described as coordinating the search, said it had dispatched a seven-person search and rescue team and would deploy a helicopter on Tuesday. There were no reports of helicopters being used at any time on Monday, and many of the men’s colleagues expressed concern that the government did not appear to be acting quickly.

“We ask the authorities for speed, seriousness and all possible resources for this search,” Pereira’s family wrote in a statement. “Every minute counts, every stretch of the river and forest not yet checked could be where they wait for help.”

Army numbers far outnumber the navy in the area, and officials did not say why they weren’t included in the initial search efforts. But on Monday night, a spokesperson for the military’s Amazon division told AP it had since been ordered to deploy a search mission.

Phillips has also contributed to The Washington Post and The New York Times. He currently resides in Salvador, a city in the state of Bahia in Brazil, with his wife, Alessandra Sampaio, who shared a series of messages posted on Twitter by a journalist helping advise her.

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“I can only pray that Dom and Bruno are somehow prevented from continuing for some mechanical reason, and that this will all become just one more story in a life full of them,” Sampaio wrote. “I do know, however, the moment that the Amazon is going through and I know the risks that Dom has always denounced.”

The Vale do Javari region has seen repeated gunfights between hunters, fishermen and official security guards, who have a permanent base in the region, which has the world’s largest population of uncontacted indigenous people. It is also an important route for cocaine produced on the Peruvian side of the border and then smuggled into Brazil to supply local towns or for shipment to Europe.

In September 2019, an employee of the indigenous affairs agency was shot dead in Tabatinga, the largest town in the region. The crime was never solved.

“It is extremely important that the Brazilian authorities dedicate all available and necessary resources to the immediate execution of the searches, in order to guarantee, as soon as possible, the safety of the two men,” said Maria Laura Canineau, director of Human Rights Watch. in Brazil, said Monday in a statement.

Journalists working for regional media in the Amazon have been murdered in recent years, although there have been no such cases among journalists from domestic or foreign media. However, several threats have been reported and the press has limited access to several areas dominated by criminal activity, including illegal mining, land grabbing and drug trafficking.

President Jair Bolsonaro posted a comment on Tuesday: “Really, just two people in a boat in a completely wild area like this is not a recommended adventure. Everything can happen. It could be an accident, they could have been killed,” he said in an interview with SBT TV. “We hope and ask God that they will be found soon. The armed forces work hard.

Three of Bolsonaro’s ministers told the AP on Tuesday that the government recognizes the importance of a quick response and fears an apparent failure could cast a shadow over Bolsonaro’s attendance at the Summit of the Americas this week in Los Angeles. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly.

AP writers Mauricio Savarese in Sao Paulo and Débora Álvares in Brasilia contributed to this report.