‘Exhaustive’ search fails to find Dom Phillips’ boat as tests begin on bodies

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Brazil’s federal police are continuing to search for the missing boat of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira as investigators prepare to begin testing human remains found buried in the Amazon.

It comes as DNA testing of blood found in the boat of the man charged with their murders has indicated it is not that of the British journalist.

Investigators added that tests to determine if it was Mr Pereira’s had so far proved inconclusive.

In a statement provided to the PA news agency on Friday, police also said that despite “exhaustive searches” officers had so far failed to find the missing men’s boat.

Fisherman Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, 41, confessed to shooting the men and led officers to human remains he had buried in an area of the Amazon near where the pair disappeared.

Brazil Amazon
Federal police officers arrive with recovered human remains at the federal police hangar in Brasília on Thursday night (Eraldo Peres/AP)

A federal police plane flew the remains into Brasilia on Thursday evening.

The discovery of the human remains came after a ten-day search for the missing British journalist and his Brazilian companion who disappeared on June 5.

Brazilians authorities have so far arrested two men in relation to the pair’s suspected murders. On Thursday, police said Mr da Costa de Oliveira – the prime suspect – confessed to using a firearm to kill Mr Phillips and Mr Pereira.

More arrests are expected to be made in the coming days.

Police gave no immediate explanation of a motive for the killing, but officials earlier suggested that Mr Pereira’s work to stop illegal fishing in an indigenous reserve had angered local fishermen.

British journalist Dom Phillips, right, and a Yanomami Indigenous man walk in Maloca Papiu village, Roraima state, Brazil, Nov 2019
Brazilian authorities have been accused of being ‘slow to act’ in the search for Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira (Joao Laet/AP)

In a brief statement issued by his brother-in-law Paul Sherwood, Phillips’ UK-based loved ones said: “Early this morning we were informed that two bodies have been recovered from a remote location after a confession from one of the men in custody.

“We are heartbroken at the confirmation that Dom and Bruno were murdered and extend our deepest sympathies to Alessandra, Beatriz and the other Brazilian family members of both men.”

Friends and colleagues of the long-time campaigner for the Amazon and its indigenous people also paid tribute to the journalist.

Jonathan Watts, The Guardian’s global environment editor, said his long-time friend had died in “an undeclared global war against nature and the people who defend it”.

In an opinion piece that was shared by Mr Phillips’ bereaved family members, Mr Watts also took aim at Brazilian authorities as well as president Jair Bolsonaro.

“The police refused to put a helicopter in the air after the two men were reported missing, and the military said it had the capacity to search but wasted more than a day while waiting for orders,” he wrote.

Mr Watts said the president, who earlier accused Mr Phillips and Mr Pereira of taking an “adventure” that was “ill-advised”, had “encouraged illegal logging and mining, dismissed indigenous land rights, attacked conservation groups, and slashed the budgets and personnel of forest and indigenous protection agencies”.

He added that “what happened to Dom and Bruno is not a one-off: It is part of a global trend”.

“Over the past two decades, thousands of environment- and land-defenders have been killed worldwide. Brazil has been the most murderous country during that time,” Mr Watts said.

“Some of the deaths cause a global storm, such as those of Chico Mendes, Dorothy Stang and now Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips, but most go under-reported and uninvestigated.

“If anything useful can come from the latest horror, let it be a recognition that these are not isolated cases. Let journalists examine the patterns that link these crimes, let us tell stories off the beaten track, and let us try to find solutions to the planet’s problems, as Dom was trying to do.”

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