Search for missing journalist in Brazil nearing the end, indigenous group says
Phillips and Pereira went missing more than a week ago along a remote stretch of the Itacoai River in far western Brazil near the border with Colombia and Peru.
Eliesio Marubo, a lawyer for Univaja, said that indigenous searchers tipped off the authorities after discovering traces of the men in the area, helping to focus the search.
“We understand that we are heading toward the end. The search area has been further reduced,” Marubo said late on Monday.
On Sunday, police said searchers had found belongings of the two men in a creek off the river near to where they were last seen on June 5.
A federal police statement and a spokesman for Univaja, which has organized non-stop search efforts, have denied subsequent reports that two bodies had turned up in the search.
Brazilian federal police said that they expect to conclude this week the forensic analysis of a blood sample collected from the boat of a man suspected to be involved in the disappearance.
Sunday’s police statement said the belongings of the two men that were recovered included an ID card for Pereira. A firefighter on a search team told reporters of a backpack with clothes and a laptop tied to a half-sunken tree trunk.
Pereira, a former head of isolated and recently contacted tribes at the government’s indigenous affairs agency Funai, was traveling on a research trip with Phillips, a freelance reporter who has written for the Guardian and the Washington Post and was working on a book on the Amazon.
They were in the remote jungle area near the border with Peru and Colombia that is home to the world’s largest number of uncontacted indigenous people. The wild and lawless region has lured cocaine-smuggling gangs, along with illegal loggers, miners and hunters.
News of the pair’s disappearance echoed globally, with human rights organizations, environmentalists and free press advocates urging Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to step up the search.
Bolsonaro, who once faced tough questioning from Phillips at a news conference over weakening environmental law enforcement, said last week that the two men “were on an adventure that is not recommended” and speculated they could have been executed.
In Brasilia, staff of Funai went on a one-day protest strike to demand greater security for indigenous experts working in the field and the replacement of the head of the agency appointed by Bolsonaro, a police officer.
(This story has been refiled to add name of country to headline)
(Reporting by Jake Spring; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Alistair Bell)