Salem Radio Network News Sunday, June 26, 2022

World

Brazilian police interview two witnesses who saw missing British journalist

By Gabriel Stargardter

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Brazilian police have interviewed two people among the last to have seen a British journalist and indigenous expert who went missing in a remote and lawless part of the Amazon jungle, the federal police said in a statement on Tuesday.

The federal police identified the two people late on Monday and took them to be interviewed at a civil police station in the riverside community of Atalaia do Norte, near where freelance journalist Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira, a former senior official with federal indigenous agency Funai, went missing.

The two witnesses were not arrested, the statement said.

An Amazonas state police intelligence officer, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing probe, told Reuters the two witnesses did not provide any worthwhile information.

Pereira and Phillips, who has written for The Guardian and The Washington Post, went missing early on Sunday while on a reporting trip in the Javari Valley.

The vast region, which borders Peru and is home to the world’s largest number of uncontacted indigenous people, is threatened by illegal miners, loggers, hunters and coca-growing gangs that make the raw material for cocaine.

The disappearance of the two men, who both had years of experience working in the complex and inhospitable Amazon rainforest, sparked global concern from human rights groups, environmentalists, politicians and press freedom advocates.

In an emotional TV interview, Phillips’ wife, Alessandra Sampaio, urged authorities to intensify their search efforts, “because we still have a little hope of finding them.”

“Even if I don’t find the love of my life alive, they have to be found, please,” she added.

RECENT THREATS

The Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley (UNIVAJA), which first announced the men’s disappearance, said its team had received threats in recent days.

Indigenous patrols, who complain of weaker environmental law enforcement since President Jair Bolsonaro took office calling for fewer restrictions on tribal lands, regularly clash with illegal miners and hunters in the region.

Phillips was researching a book about the Amazon and its environmental defenders. Pereira has been collaborating with UNIVAJA and other indigenous groups independently since he was removed from his role at Funai under Bolsonaro.

Brazil’s Navy, which is leading the search operation, dispatched a vessel to look for the pair on Monday, and said in a statement that a helicopter, as well as two more boats and a jet-ski, were heading to the region early on Tuesday.

Fleet Admiral José Augusto Vieira da Cunha, the fourth-highest ranking naval officer in Brazil, told Reuters the Navy base in the nearby border town of Tabatinga was small, with about 30 men garrisoned there and limited infrastructure.

Brazil’s army courted controversy on Monday when it said it had yet to be ordered to deploy men for the search. In a subsequent statement, the army said it had sent a specialized jungle fighting team from Tabatinga to aid in the search.

(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Brad Haynes and Howard Goller)

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