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Avellon Williams 

BRAZIL- As a result of the discovery of a backpack, laptop, and other personal belongings submerged in a river, the search for an Indigenous expert and a journalist who went missing in Brazil Amazon continues.

Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips went missing in Brazil Amazon /Image, BBC/

As of Sunday night, police said they had identified the items, including the health card and clothes of Bruno Pereira, the Brazilian Indigenous expert, as belonging to the missing men, after they were taken by boat to Atalaia do Norte, the closest city to the search.

During the search, firefighters in Atalaia do Norte found a backpack tied to a half-submerged tree that belonged to a freelance journalist from Britain, Dom Phillips, a firefighter told reporters. The rainy season is over in the region, and parts of the forest are flooded.

According to Paulo Marubo, the President of Indigenous Association Univaja, for which Pereira served as an adviser, the area where the belongings were discovered was being searched by the army, navy, Federal Police, Civil Defense, firefighters,and Military Police.

President Paulo Marubo /Image, TLF/

After spending a full day searching, Federal Police officers returned to Atalaia do Norte without finding the bodies of either man or other items.

In a statement released Monday morning, police denied media reports that the bodies of the two men had been found. A sample of organic material of human origin was recovered in the river last week, which has been sent for analysis. The material has not been described, but President Jair Bolsonaro told local radio Monday that it was “human viscera.”

Additionally, traces of blood were found in the boat of the only suspect in the disappearance, a fisherman who is currently under arrest.

Items found in the river /Image, AP/

Teams of search and rescue workers had concentrated their efforts in the Itaquai river, where a tarp from the boat the missing men were using was found by Matis Indigenous community volunteers on Saturday.

“We used a little canoe to go to the shallow water. Then we found a tarp, shorts, and a spoon,” one of the volunteers, Binin Beshu Matis, said.

Both Pereira, 41, and Phillips, 57, were last seen on June 5 near the entrance to the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory, which borders Peru and Colombia. They were traveling alone on the Itaquai from Atalaia do Norte to Atalaia but never arrived.

Javari Valley Indigenous Territory, which borders Peru and Colombia/Image, TG/

The disappearance of the two was protested by hundreds of Indigenous people on Monday in Atalaia do Norte’s narrow streets.

As they carried placards criticizing President Bolsonaro, they wore traditional clothing, carried bows and arrows, and carried mobile phones.

It is known that there are seven Indigenous groups in the Javari Valley – some of them only recently contacted, such as the Matis. In addition to 11 uncontacted tribes, the valley contains the largest number of isolated tribes in the world.

According to official figures, the Indigenous territory has about 6,300 residents. Several of them reside in the urban center so that their children can attend non-Indigenous public schools. Several of them collect Federal benefits and receive medical care in the city as well.

Tension and fear /BPE/

Several conflicts have broken out between poachers, fishermen, and government agents there. Drug trafficking gangs have grown more violent as they fight over control of waterways to ship cocaine, even though the Itaquai isn’t a known drug-trafficking route.

Police have confirmed they are investigating possible links to an international network that pays poor fishermen to fish illegally in the Javari Valley reserve, which is the second-largest Indigenous territory in Brazil.

An important target is an arapaima, the world’s largest freshwater fish with scales. It weighs up to 200 kilograms (440 pounds) and can reach a height of 3 meters (10 feet). These fish are available in nearby cities.

However, federal police have not ruled out other avenues of investigation, such as drug trafficking.

Currently, the only suspect in the disappearances is Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, also known as Pelado, who has been arrested. The day before Pereira and Phillips disappeared, indigenous people who were with them say he brandished a rifle at them. His family said he denied wrongdoing and had undergone torture to obtain a confession.

/Image, SI/

Previously, Pereira led the local office of the Brazilian government’s Indigenous agency or FUNAI. During his tenure there, he was part of several anti-illegal fishing missions. Such operations generally involve the seizure of fishing gear or its destruction, while fines and temporary detentions are administered to the fishermen. Indigenous peoples are the only ones allowed to fish in their territory legally.

As recently as 2019, Funai official Maxciel Pereira dos Santos was murdered in front of his wife and daughter-in-law in Tabatinga. Despite three years of investigation, the crime has not been solved. It is believed by his FUNAI colleagues that his killing was linked to his work against poachers and fishermen.

The riverbank communities surrounding the area are all founded by rubber tappers. However, rubber tapping declined in the 1980s, and they turned to log instead. This too ended in 2001 with the creation of the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory by the federal government. Since then, the primary economic activity has been fishing.

/Image, BBC/

According to local historian and councilman Manoel Felipe, an illegal fishing trip to the vast Javari Valley often lasts around one month. The average fisherman can earn at least $3,000 for an illegal incursion.

“The fishermen’s financiers are Colombians,” Felipe said. “In (the city of) Leticia, everybody was angry with Bruno. This is not a little game. It’s possible they sent a gunman to kill him.”

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Avellon Williams

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