Fear is growing for the British journalist, an Indigenous expert who is missing from Amazon – Science-Environment News – Report by AFR

Rights groups and families of a British journalist and Brazilian expert on tribal peoples missing deep in the Amazon after receiving threats asked authorities on Tuesday to speed up the search.

Veteran freelance journalist Dom Phillips, 57, and respected indigenous specialist Bruno Pereira, 41, went missing early Sunday while traveling by boat in Brazil’s Javari Valley, near the border with Peru, where Phillips was researching a book.

By the time the 48-hour mark had passed, speculation swirled as to whether they might have been the victims of an accident or foul play.

As of Tuesday night, authorities had had no reports of their whereabouts, but Amazonas state plainclothes police said they were questioning a “suspect” and four other people had testified as “witnesses,” although no arrests had been made.

Local Indigenous activists said the couple received threats last week over their work in the remote region, which has seen a rise in illegal logging, gold mining, poaching and drug trafficking.

Her loved ones hoped that the couple would be found.

“I would like to appeal to the government to intensify the search,” Phillips’ Brazilian wife Alessandra Sampaio said in a video message.

“We still have a small hope of finding her. Even if I don’t find the love of my life alive, please find her,” she said, choking back a sob.

The Brazilian government expressed its “great concern” and said the police are taking “all possible measures to find (the men) as soon as possible”.

However, the authorities were accused of not acting quickly enough.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement that since Monday the army had deployed 150 soldiers who “are specialists in operations in jungle environments who know the terrain where the searches are being conducted.”

But three indigenous rights groups in the region previously said in a joint statement that only six state police officers were actively working on the operation and called on the government to deploy helicopters and a task force.

“The Brazilian government acted very slowly in a situation where swift action is absolutely essential,” the Brazilian office of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said in a statement.

Brazil’s Federal Police later said they deployed a second helicopter to assist in the effort.

– Bolsonaro’s reaction criticized –

President Jair Bolsonaro drew criticism for apparently blaming the missing men, both of whom have extensive experience in the Amazon rainforest basin.

“Two people in a boat in a region like that, all wild – it’s an inadvisable adventure. Anything can happen,” Bolsonaro said.

“Maybe there was an accident, maybe they were executed.”

The far-right president has been accused of fueling invasions of indigenous lands in the Amazon with his pro-mining and pro-agriculture policies.

Pereira, an expert currently on furlough from Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency FUNAI, has spent much of his career fighting such invasions – making him the target of frequent threats.

– ‘tormented’ waiting –

The men’s families urged the authorities to act quickly.

“Time is a key factor in rescue operations, especially when injured,” Pereira’s family said in a statement.

It said his partner, three children and other relatives were in “pain”.

Phillips’ sister Sian posted a video message online and fought back tears.

“We are very concerned about him and urge the authorities in Brazil to do everything they can,” she said. “Every minute counts.”

A group of about 40 reporters and friends of Phillips, in a letter published in the newspaper O Globo, appealed to Brazilian authorities to step up search efforts.

In addition, 11 press organizations requested an emergency meeting with the Minister of Justice and other senior officials to receive a progress report on the hunt.

Phillips, who lives in the city of Salvador, previously accompanied Pereira to the Javari Valley in 2018 for a story in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, where he is a regular contributor.

The 85,000 square kilometer reserve is home to around 6,300 indigenous peoples from 26 groups, including 19 who have virtually no contact with the outside world.

The FUNAI base there, which was set up to protect the indigenous population, has been attacked several times in recent years.

In 2019, a FUNAI officer was shot dead there.

The region has seen a rise in illegal mining, logging and poaching in recent years, and its remoteness makes it a haven for drug traffickers, said Fiona Watson, research director for tribal rights group Survival International.

“You speak of dense tropical forest,” she told the AFP news agency.

“Trying to locate Bruno and Dom is an enormous challenge.”

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