Possible human remains found in Amazon search for missing journalist Dom Phillips

British journalist Dom Phillips vanished from a remote part of the rainforest after reportedly last being seen six days ago, on Sunday June 5. Credit: Dom Phillips/Twitter

Possible human remains have been found in an Amazon rainforest search for a missing British journalist and his Brazilian companion, local police have said.

Journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian official Bruno Araujo Pereira vanished from a remote part of the rainforest, the Javari Valley, having reportedly last been seen early on Sunday June 5 in the Sao Rafael community.

Police in the town of town of Atalaia do Norte have questioned several fishermen as witnesses and arrested one of them, a local fisherman called Amarildo Da Costa.

Traces of blood found on a boat belonging to Da Costa, who police say was one of the last people to see the two men, are also being investigated to see whether it is human or not.

A family member said “evidence seems to be mounting” of criminal involvement in the disappearances.

Paul Sherwood, partner of Mr Phillips’ sister Sian, said reports that police have found human matter while searching for Mr Phillips and Brazilian indigenous affairs official Bruno Araujo are “shocking”.

Mr Sherwood, 60, told the PA news agency: “We can only base our assessment on the evidence that is available, which is there seems to have been threats, that these people shouldn’t have disappeared.

British journalist Dom Phillips, right, and a Yanomami indigenous man walk in Maloca Papiu village, Roraima state, Brazil, 2019. Credit: AP

“They had good communications equipment and they had good local knowledge so their disappearance and continued failure to turn up definitely suggests sinister events.

“And it is clear that there were threats and armed people in the area who issued those threats and may have been responsible for attacking them, so we obviously have to hope that wasn’t the case but the evidence seems to be mounting that something like that has happened.”

After reports that Brazilian police are analysing human matter found in the Itaquai River, near Atalaia do Norte’s port, Mr Sherwood added: “I haven’t seen those, I knew there were some developments but I have been away from my computer.

“Obviously it’s very shocking to receive confirmation, if it turns out to be confirmation, of what we suspected, that there was a criminal basis to what’s happened.

“I don’t think anybody has sent that to us yet, although we are expecting some communication from police in Brazil fairly soon via the Brazilian embassy – as of now though I haven’t received anything.”

In a statement to the Associated Press, Brazilian police said the “organic material” found in a river near the town of Atalaia do Norte was being sent for forensic analysis.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Brazilian authorities to "redouble their efforts to find Phillips and Pereira".

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Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said the Javari Valley - a remote area in western Amazon of Brazil, neighbouring Peru and Colombia - was the second biggest indigenous territory in Brazil, believed to have one of the world's highest concentrations of uncontacted indigenous tribes.

"The area is also seriously affected by illegal trafficking, mining, and fishing, and it is reportedly suffering from increased activities of armed groups," she said.

Phillips and Araújo Pereira have played important roles in raising awareness and defending the human rights of the indigenous peoples in the area, including by monitoring and reporting illegal activities in the Javari Valley.

Mr Phillips, 57, who is a regular contributor to The Guardian, was said to have received a number of threats from loggers and miners in the region, which is notorious for illegal mining.

Mr Phillips’ sister on Thursday said she still has hope that he will be found.

Sian Phillips was joined by supporters at a vigil for her brother and Mr Pereira outside the Brazilian embassy in central London.

“We are here because Dom is missing," she said, "he is lost doing the important job of investigative journalism. We are here to make the point that why did it take so long for them to start the search for my brother and for Bruno. We want the search to carry on.”

When asked about the chances of her brother being found, she added: “We all still have hope. We have hope.”

The vigil came after 41-year-old suspect Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, also known as Pelado, was arrested for allegedly carrying a firearm without a permit, a common practice in the region.

Police did not clarify why he was being treated as a suspect but he is thought to have been among a group of men who threatened the pair near an indigenous territory on Saturday.

The family of Dom Phillips have not given up hope he will be found Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

A Foreign Office minister Vicky Ford said on Friday that she had spoken with Brazil’s justice and public security minister Anderson Torres, who is also in charge of the federal police, at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles.

“He assured me Brazilian authorities are doing all that can be done in air, boats & land in v difficult and remote terrain to find Dom and will keep searching,” the minister tweeted.

“(The) UK is ready to support (the) operation,” she added.

Politicians and celebrities are among those who have urged Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro and his government to step up efforts to find Mr Pereira and Mr Phillips.

Football star Pelé joined Mr Phillip's wife, sister, scientists, artists and journalists in posting messages on social media, calling for authorities to bolster their search.

He wrote: "The fight for the preservation of the Amazon Forest and of the indigenous groups belongs to all of us.

"I am moved by the disappearance of Dom Phillips and Bruno Ferreira, who dedicate their lives to this cause. I join the many voices that make the appeal to intensify the search."