RIO DE JANEIRO — A British journalist and an indigenous affairs official are still missing in a remote part of Brazil’s Amazon as authorities say they are expanding search efforts in the region, which has seen violent conflict between fishermen, poachers and government agents.
Dom Phillips, who has contributed regularly to the British newspaper The Guardian, and Bruno Araújo Pereira were last seen early Sunday in the community of Sao Rafael, reported the Univaja association of people from the indigenous territory of Vale do Javari, for which Pereira has been an adviser.
The couple were returning by boat from Vale do Javari and heading to the town of Atalaia do Norte, about an hour away, but never showed up.
Pereira is one of the most experienced employees of the Brazilian Indigenous Affairs Agency operating in the Vale do Javari region. He oversaw the agency’s regional office and the coordination of uncontacted indigenous groups before taking his current leave. He has received a barrage of threats from illegal fishermen and poachers, and usually carries a gun.
Univaja said the two were threatened during their reporting trip. While camping on Saturday, two men traveled by river to the edge of indigenous territory and brandished a gun at a Unijava patrol, association president Paulo Marubo said. at the Associated Press.
Phillips, who has reported from Brazil for more than a decade, has been working on a book about preserving the Amazon with support from the Alicia Patterson Foundation, which gave him a one-year fellowship for environmental reporting that took place until January.
The couple disappeared while returning from a two-day trip to the Lake Jaburu region, where Phillips interviewed local indigenous people, Univaja said. Only the two were on the boat.
The place where they disappeared is the main route to and from Vale do Javari, the second largest indigenous territory in Brazil, larger than Maine, and where several thousand natives live in dozens of villages. . Locals say it is highly unlikely that the men got lost in this area.
“He is a cautious journalist, with an impressive knowledge of the complexities of Brazil’s environmental crisis,” Margaret Engel, executive director of the Alicia Patterson Foundation, wrote in an email. “And he’s a beautiful writer and a lovely person. The best in our business.”
Brazil’s federal prosecutors said in a statement on Monday that they have opened an investigation and that the federal police, the Amazonas state civil police, the national guard and the navy have been mobilized. The Navy, which prosecutors described as coordinating the search, said it had dispatched a seven-person search and rescue team and would deploy a helicopter on Tuesday.
The army’s footprint and manpower are far larger than the navy’s in the area, and officials did not say why they weren’t included in the initial search efforts. But on Monday night, a spokesperson for the military’s Amazon division told AP it had since been ordered to deploy a search mission.
Phillips has also contributed to The Washington Post and The New York Times. He currently resides in Salvador, a city in the Brazilian state of Bahia, with his wife, Alessandra Sampaio, who shared a series of posts on Twitter through a friend.
“I can only pray that Dom and Bruno are somehow prevented from continuing for some mechanical reason, and that this will all become just one more story in a life full of them,” Sampaio wrote. “I do know, however, the moment that the Amazon is going through and I know the risks that Dom has always denounced.”
The Vale do Javari region has seen repeated gunfights between hunters, fishermen and official security guards, who have a permanent base in the region, which has the world’s largest population of uncontacted indigenous people. It is also an important route for cocaine produced on the Peruvian side of the border and then smuggled into Brazil to supply local towns or for shipment to Europe.
In September 2019, an employee of the indigenous affairs agency was shot dead in Tabatinga, the largest town in the region. The crime was never solved.
“It is extremely important that the Brazilian authorities dedicate all available and necessary resources to the immediate execution of the searches, in order to guarantee, as soon as possible, the safety of the two men,” said Maria Laura Canineau, director of Human Rights Watch. in Brazil, said Monday in a statement.
Journalists working for regional media in the Amazon have been murdered in recent years, although there have been no such cases among journalists from domestic or foreign media. However, several threats have been reported and the press has limited access to several areas dominated by criminal activity, including illegal mining, land grabbing and drug trafficking.
“I hope they will be found soon, that they are well and that they are safe,” former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva posted on Twitter. President Jair Bolsonaro had made no comment on Monday evening.
___ Associated Press writer Mauricio Savarese in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.