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Suspect held as Brazil steps up search for missing British journalist and researcher-EnglishHindiBlogs-News

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Concerns are growing over the fate of Dom Phillips and Bruno Araújo Pereira, who were first reported missing on Sunday in the Javari Valley in the far west of Amazonas state. They reportedly received death threats a few days earlier.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Amazonas State Secretary General of Security Carlos Alberto Mansur said the suspect was still being investigated in police custody.

Mansur said the man was arrested after being found in possession of “a lot of drugs” and ammunition used for illegal hunting.

Authorities said Wednesday they were pursuing multiple lines of investigation, including homicide, and added they “still can’t rule anything out.”

Mansur noted that five other people were also being questioned by police in connection with the disappearance of Phillips and Pereira, who had traveled to the area to conduct research for a book project about conservation efforts in the area.

Ahead of the press conference, the media and family members of the two missing men called on the federal government to step up its search efforts. Federal Police Commissioner Eduardo Alexandre Fontes said on Wednesday that a total of 250 men, two helicopters, three drones and 16 boats have been deployed for the search and rescue operation.

Phillips and Pereira have been missing for more than 72 hours, according to the Indigenous Organization Coordination. The organization, known as UNIVAJA, said satellite information showed the couple’s last known location in the São Rafael community early Sunday morning, where they were due to meet a local leader who never showed up. .

A “dangerous” region

Home to thousands of natives and around 16 uncontacted groups, the Javari Valley – the second largest indigenous territory in Brazil – is a patchwork of rivers and dense forests that makes access very difficult. The region is increasingly threatened by illegal miners, loggers, hunters and international drug traffickers who exploit its vast network of rivers.

On Wednesday, Federal Police Superintendent Fontes described the area where Phillips and Pereira disappeared as “complicated” and “dangerous.”

Phillips and Pereira had traveled to the area to conduct research for a book about conservation efforts there. Phillips, an Amazon specialist, had previously reported
for the British newspaper The Guardian on the threats posed by illegal mining and cattle ranchers to uncontacted indigenous groups in the region.
Although under government protection, the Javari Valley can be a hostile environment for journalists and indigenous rights activists. According to the Brazilian prosecutor’s office, an indigenous affairs worker was murdered in the region in September 2019.

“In this region, violence is progressing increasingly unchecked against the backdrop of the invasion of indigenous lands and state-owned lands, the repression of press freedom and the work of journalists,” UNIVAJA said in a statement.

In 2018, Phillips reported on the threats posed by illegal mining and cattle ranchers to isolated indigenous groups there, with Pereira at the heart of this article.

Survival International, an NGO that defends indigenous peoples, said Pereira had already received “numerous threats” because of his work as an “ally in the indigenous struggle”.

Tara Subramaniam wrote from Washington, DC. Camilo Rocha and Marcia Reverdosa reported from Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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