Bolsonaro blamed as UN, activists denounce Amazon murders

·4-min read

The United Nations as well as environmental and rights groups expressed outrage Thursday at the murder of British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, which they linked to President Jair Bolsonaro's willingness to allow commercial exploitation of the Brazilian Amazon.

Veteran correspondent Phillips, 57, and Pereira, 41, went missing on June 5 in a remote part of the rainforest rife with illegal mining, fishing and logging, as well as drug trafficking.

Ten days later, on Wednesday, a suspect named Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira took police to a place where he said he had buried bodies near the city of Atalaia do Norte, where the pair had been headed.

Human remains unearthed from the site arrived in Brasilia on Thursday evening for identification by experts, with members of the federal police seen carrying two brown coffins through a hangar. Official results are expected next week, according to local media.

Federal police said Thursday that traces of blood found in Oliveira's boat belonged to a man, but not Phillips. Further analysis will be necessary to determine if it was that of Pereira.

There is still much to clarify in the case, including a motive and the circumstances surrounding the killings, apparently carried out by firearm.

Late Wednesday, the federal police chief of Brazil's northern Amazonas state said there was "a 99 percent probability" the unearthed remains corresponded to the missing men.

The UN human rights office said Thursday it was "deeply saddened by the information about the murder" of the two men.

"This brutal act of violence is appalling and we call on state authorities to ensure that investigations are impartial, transparent and thorough, and that redress is provided to the families of the victims," spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said in Geneva.

Phillips, a longtime contributor to The Guardian and other leading international newspapers, was working on a book on sustainable development in the Amazon with Pereira as his guide, when they went missing.

Pereira, an expert at Brazil's indigenous affairs agency FUNAI, had received multiple threats from loggers and miners with their eye on isolated Indigenous land.

- 'Heartbroken' -

Phillips' family said in a statement they were "heartbroken" by the discovery of two bodies Wednesday, which they took as confirmation that the pair had been killed.

Beatriz Matos, the wife of Pereira, wrote on Twitter that "now that the spirits of Bruno are walking through the jungle and scattered among us, our strength is much greater."

The Javari Valley where the men went missing -- an area near the borders with Peru and Colombia -- is home to about 20 isolated Indigenous groups where drug traffickers, loggers, miners and illegal fishermen operate.

Greenpeace Brazil said the deaths were "a direct result of the agenda of President Jair Bolsonaro for the Amazon, which opens the way for predatory activities and crimes... in broad daylight."

Bolsonaro, who took office in 2019, has pushed to develop the Amazon, the world's largest tropical rainforest.

He drew fresh criticism Wednesday for saying Phillips was "disliked" for his reporting on the region and should have been more careful.

On Thursday, the far-right president tweeted "our condolences to the families" of the men.

In Brussels, seven Brazilian Indigenous leaders deplored the climate of violence and "impunity" in the Amazon in front of the European Union headquarters.

One of them, Dinamam Tuxa, told AFP that "Bruno and Dom Phillips were victims of government policies."

- 'Political crime' -

Shamdasani said attacks and threats against activists and Indigenous people in Brazil were "persistent" and urged the government to step up protections.

The Univaja association of Indigenous peoples, which had taken part in the search for the missing men, denounced the suspected killings as a "political crime," while the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism said "the president and his allies have become protagonists of attacks on the press" uncovering environmental crimes.

"People dead for defending Indigenous lands and the environment. Brazil cannot be that," added ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who will face Bolsonaro in October elections.

Investigations continue to look into the motive for the crime as well as the role played by Oliveira and fellow suspect Oseney da Costa de Oliveira.

On the ground, civil police carried out three search warrants, but no arrests were made. Authorities said they had so far been unsuccessful in finding the boat in which Phillips and Pereira were traveling when they were last seen, an AFP journalist confirmed.

Brazilian media report there may be three more people involved. Police have not ruled out more arrests.

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