Authorities combing a remote corner of the Amazon for signs of a missing British journalist and Brazilian indigenous expert are investigating a patch of earth where something appears to have been buried, officials said Friday.
Fears have been mounting over the fate of Dom Phillips, 57, a veteran contributor to The Guardian newspaper, and Bruno Pereira, 41, a respected specialist in indigenous peoples, since they disappeared Sunday after receiving threats during a research trip to Brazil's Javari Valley, a far-flung jungle region that has seen a surge of illegal fishing, logging, mining and drug trafficking.
Authorities, who have arrested a suspect witnesses say pursued the men upriver and found blood on a tarp in his boat, told journalists accompanying the search operation they had a new lead in the case: a suspicious site with "overturned earth" near the area where the men were last seen, said emergency official Geonivan Maciel.
"It's as if someone had dug something at the site, buried something there," Maciel said.
"We're going to carry out a scan of the bottom to verify... We can't say there's definite evidence, but we're going to see if there's something there that could identify something about the two missing men."
President Jair Bolsonaro's government has faced criticism of failing to scale up the search operation fast enough, and mounting pressure from high-profile media organizations, rights groups and celebrities including football legend Pele and iconic singer Caetano Veloso.
Bolsonaro appeared to blame the men, saying they had gone on an "unadvisable adventure."
Police have said they are hopeful of finding the pair alive but are not ruling out any possibility, including homicide.
Witnesses say they saw the arrested man trailing Phillips and Pereira's boat as the pair made their way back to the small city of Atalaia do Norte after a research trip to an area known as Jaburu lake.
Local indigenous activists say Phillips and Pereira received threats last week while working in the region.
Pereira, a highly regarded expert on the region currently on leave from Brazilian indigenous affairs agency FUNAI, has been a target of death threats for his work fighting illegal invasions of indigenous lands.
Phillips was accompanying him for a book project on sustainable development in the Amazon.