Traces of blood were found on the boat of a suspect arrested in connection with the disappearance of a British journalist and a Brazilian indigenous expert in the Amazon, authorities said on Thursday amid calls for the search to intensify.
Dom Phillips, 57, a contributor to The Guardian newspaper, and Bruno Pereira, 41, an indigenous peoples specialist, were reported missing on Sunday after venturing deep into the heart of the Amazon rainforest.
“Spots of blood were found on the boat of Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, 41,” Brazilian police said in a statement, adding that the suspect, known as “Pelado,” was arrested on Tuesday.
“The collected material is on its way to Manaus, capital of Amazonas state, for expert analysis, the statement added.
It was accompanied by images of investigators taking photos of what appeared to be a small bloodstain on a blue tarpaulin in a powerboat with the paint peeling off.
The statement is a grim twist in the ongoing search for the two men, whose fate remains unknown.
Brazilian authorities said they hope to find the couple alive but are not ruling out any outcome, including a murder, in a region where human trafficking is rampant.
High-profile figures and environmental and human rights groups have championed the cause, urging President Jair Bolsonaro to step up the search.
“Where’s Dom Phillips? Where’s Bruno Pereira?” asked the journalist’s sister, Sian Phillips, in a statement to the media during a gathering of around 30 people outside the Brazilian embassy in London.
“We would like the British authorities to put pressure on the Brazilian government,” she added before she and other family members were received by the ambassador.
“We want to continue the search. We want to find out what is happening to them and we want anyone responsible for a crime to be brought to justice. We want a consistent, in-depth and open investigation,” she added.
She accused Brazilian authorities of delaying the search but said they had “every hope” the couple would be found.
“He’s a great writer and journalist. He is a caring man. He cares about the environment. He loves Brazil,” Phillips said of her brother.
“He’s a great guy and we love him with all our hearts.”
Paul Sherwood, Phillips’ brother-in-law, told AFP the family had been “reassured that everything that could be done has been done.”
– Bolsonaro says hopes are ‘fading’ every day –
Bolsonaro, who was attending the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, said Thursday, “Let’s pray to God that they are alive.”
But he added, “With every day that goes by, those opportunities dwindle.”
He had drawn criticism in recent days for apparently blaming the missing and saying they went on an “inadvisable adventure”.
Phillips and Pereira went missing in the Javari Valley in Amazonas State, in the west of the Amazon Basin near Peru.
Witnesses said they saw the suspect speed past in a boat going in the same direction as Phillips and Pereira when they were last seen. Police said the man was arrested for carrying unlicensed caliber ammunition and drugs.
The remote region is witnessing an escalation of armed violence due to the presence of miners, gold miners, poachers and drug traffickers.
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