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British journalist confirmed dead in Brazil, US urges ‘accountability’

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Veteran correspondent Dom Phillips (above) and his guide went missing in a remote part of the rainforest rife with illegal mining, fishing and logging, as well as drug trafficking.

PHOTO: AFP

ATALAIA DO NORTE, BRAZIL (AFP) – Brazilian police on Friday (June 17) officially identified the remains of British journalist Dom Phillips, who was found buried in the Amazon after going missing on a book research trip.

The grim result comes after the disappearance on June 5 of Phillips and his guide, indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, ignited an international outcry, with the United States calling on Friday for “accountability.”

Phillips was identified through “forensic dentistry combined with forensic anthropology,” the Federal Police said in a statement.

It said it was still working on “complete identification” of the unearthed remains, which may include those of Pereira, who had received multiple death threats.

Veteran correspondent Phillips, 57, and Pereira, 41, went missing in a remote part of the rainforest rife with illegal mining, fishing and logging, as well as drug trafficking.

Ten days later, on Wednesday, a suspect named Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira – known as “Pelado” – took police to a place where he said he had buried bodies near the city of Atalaia do Norte, where the pair had been headed by boat.

Human remains unearthed from the site arrived in Brasilia on Thursday evening for identification by forensics experts.

Earlier on Friday, police said investigations pointed to the perpetrators having “acted alone, without there being an intellectual author or criminal organisation behind the crime.”

“The investigations continue and there are indications of the participation of more people” in the murders, it added.

Activists have blamed the killings on President Jair Bolsonaro for allowing commercial exploitation of the Amazon at the cost of the environment and law and order.

For his part, Bolsonaro sought to lay blame at the door of the men themselves for undertaking a “reckless” trip in an area where Phillips was “disliked.”

Phillips, a longtime contributor to The Guardian and other leading international newspapers, was working on a book on sustainable development in the Amazon with Pereira as his guide.

Pereira, an expert at Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency FUNAI, had received multiple threats from loggers and miners with their eye on isolated Indigenous land.

The Univaja association of Indigenous peoples, which had taken part in the search for the men, refuted the police’s conclusion that the killers had acted alone.

“These are not just two killers, but an organised group that planned the crime in detail,” Univaja said in a statement.

It claimed authorities had ignored numerous complaints about the activities of criminal gangs in the area.

Univaja said it had filed a report in April that “Pelado” was involved in illegal fishing.

He had previously been accused, it claimed, of “being the perpetrator of gun attacks in 2018 and 2019 against a base of FUNAI,” the organisation Pereira had worked for.

UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said attacks and threats against activists and Indigenous people in Brazil were “persistent” and urged the government to step up protections.

Investigations continue to look into the motive for the crime.

Police have been unable to find the boat in which Phillips and Pereira were traveling when they were last seen.

Blood found in Oliveira’s boat belonged to a man, investigators said, but not to Phillips.

Analysis had also revealed that entrails found in the river during the search, and linked to the men by Bolsonaro, contained “no human DNA,” according to police.

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