Family members Monday confirmed that the bodies of a British journalist as well as a Brazilian expert on Indigenous peoples were found more than a week after their disappearance in Brazil.
Dom Phillips (57), a long-term contributor for The Guardian newspaper on Brazilian affairs and Bruno Pereira (41), were last seen near the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory's entrance, which borders Peru, Colombia and Colombia.
According to the Guardian, Phillips' family was informed by Peter Wilson, British Ambassador to Brazil, about the discovery of the bodies in a telephone call on Monday morning.
Phillips' brother-in law Paul Sherwood told the newspaper that Phillips said he wanted to tell us about two bodies. He claimed that the exact location of the bodies had not been revealed, but said that they were "tied to trees."
Brazil's Federal Police issued a statement shortly after news of the discovery of the bodies. It stated that reports that the men were found had been misrepresented.
The differing accounts were not explained. NBC News asked the British Foreign Office to provide an update, but did not receive a reply.
Phillips' mother in law posted a statement on Instagram Sunday stating that Phillips and her husband are "no longer with us."
Federal police officers took the items by boat from Atalaia Do Norte to retrieve them. Police said that they identified the items as belongings of the missing men and included a health card, clothes, and a clothing of Bruno Pereira (the Brazilian Indigenous expert).
Phillips was the backpack's owner. It was tied to a tree that was partially submerged by a firefighter, Atalaia Do Norte reported. It's the end of the rainy seasons in the area and a part of the forest has been flooded.
This development comes a day after police discovered blood traces in the boat belonging to a fisherman, who was arrested as the sole suspect in the disappearance. Officers also discovered organic matter with an apparent human origin in this river. These materials are currently being analyzed.
The search teams that discovered the laptop and other items concentrated their efforts on a spot in Itaquai River, where volunteers from Matis Indigenous found a tarp from the boat the missing men used.
"We used a small canoe to get to the shallow water. Binin Beshu Matis from The Associated Press said that they found a tarp and shorts, as well as a spoon.
Violence has erupted in the area where the pair were traveling, with poachers, fishermen and government agents. The violence has increased as drug trafficking gangs fight for control over waterways to ship cocaine. However, the Itaquai isn't a well-known route for drug trafficking.
Authorities claim that the main line of police investigations into the disappearance pointed to an international network paying poor fishermen to illegally fish in Javari Valley reserve. This reserve is Brazil's second largest Indigenous territory.
The arapaima, the largest freshwater fish in the world with scales is one of the most important targets. The arapaima can reach 3 metres (10 feet) in length and weighs 200 kg (440 pounds). It is available for sale in several nearby cities such as Leticia (Colombia), Tabatinga (Brazil), and Iquitos (Peru).
Amarildo da Silva de Oliveira (also known as Pelado) is the only suspect in the disappearances. He is currently under arrest. Pereira and Phillips claim that he pointed a rifle at them on the day of the disappearance.
According to his family, the suspect denied any wrongdoing and claimed that military police tortured him in an attempt to get a confession.
Pereira, who was previously the head of the Brazilian government’s Indigenous agency known as FUNAI, participated in numerous operations against illegal fishing. These operations usually result in the confiscation or destruction of fishing gear, and the fishermen being fined and briefly held. Only Indigenous people can legally fish on their territory.
"The crime's motivation is some personal feud about fishing inspection," Denis Paiva (the mayor of Atalaia do Norte) speculated to reporters, but did not provide any further details.
AP had access the information that police shared with Indigenous leaders. While some police and the mayor of the area link the disappearances of the two men to the "fish Mafia", federal police have not dismissed other avenues of investigation such as narcotrafficking.
Maxciel Pereira dos Santos, a Funai official, was shot to death in Tabatinga in 2019, in front of his wife. The crime is still unsolved three years later. According to his colleagues, the slaying was connected to his work against poachers and fishermen.
All riverbank communities were founded by rubber tappers. However, rubber tapping began to decline in the 1980s and people resorted instead to logging. This was also ended when the federal government established the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory (2001). Since then, fishing has been the main economic activity.
According to Manoel Felipe (local historian, teacher, and councilman), an illegal fishing trip in the vast Javari Valley takes around one month. A fisherman can make at least $3,000.