Brazilian police searching for a British journalist and indigenous expert who disappeared in a remote part of the Amazon rainforest say blood was found on a boat belonging to a local fisherman who was arrested.
Dom Phillips, a freelance journalist who has written about Brazil for The Guardian, The Washington Post, The New York Times and others, was last seen sundaytraveling deep into an anarchic part of the jungle with Bruno Araujo Pereira, a former official of the indigenous federal agency Funai.
The pair were last seen over the weekend in the Javari Valley in Amazonas state, near the border with Peru.
According to The Guardian, Mr Pereira had received several threats from loggers and miners in the area.
Two Amazonas state police detectives directly involved in the case told Reuters news agency that illegal fishing and poaching were likely behind their disappearance.
Police in the city of Atalaia do Norte interviewed several fishermen as witnesses and arrested one of them, a local man called Amarildo da Costa, known as “Pelado”, who was one of the last people to see the two men.
After searching Mr da Costa’s boat for “possible genetic material”, one of the detectives in the case said police were now investigating whether the bloodstains found were human or animal.
He is suspected of being involved in illegal fishing in indigenous areas.
His lawyer, Davi Oliveira, said his client was not involved in the disappearance of MM. Phillips and Pereira and that he had only engaged in legal fishing.
Region with the largest number of uncontacted tribes in the world
The wild and unruly Javari region, where the pair were last seen, is home to the largest number of uncontacted indigenous people in the world.
It has also attracted cocaine smugglers, as well as illegal hunters and fishermen who travel deep into the Javari Valley to find protected species – such as pirarucu fish – which are sold in regional markets.
Javari has become increasingly tense and perilous in recent years, and in 2019 Maxciel Pereira dos Santos, who worked with Funai to stop illegal fishing in the valley, was shot dead in Tabatinga.
Politicians, celebrities, journalists and activists have urged Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his government to step up efforts to find Mr Phillips and Mr Pereira.
Brazilian Justice Minister Anderson Torres said he had told British Foreign Secretary Vicky Ford that Brazil would continue the search for Mr Phillips until it had exhausted all possibilities .
Mr Torres said 300 people, two planes and 20 boats were carrying out the search in what he called a “very difficult area”.
“Even if you have 30 planes, a million people, it might not work,” said Torres, who was also urged to keep the search going at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles by the US envoy for the John Kerry climate.
‘Please find our dear Dom’
Mr Phillip’s family have urged the government to act.
Paul Sherwood, the partner of Mr Phillips’ sister Sian, wrote on Twitter: “We implore the Brazilian authorities to send the national guard, the federal police and all the powers at their disposal to find our dear Dom.
“He loves Brazil and has committed his career to covering the Amazon rainforest. We understand that time is of the essence, so please find our Dom as soon as possible.”
Sian Phillips told Sky News she worries about illegal logging and drug trafficking in the area where he disappeared.
“I’m very anxious. I’m desperately worried. It’s your worst fear,” she said.
“We need everything for this. We want British officials to put pressure on the Brazilian authorities to act.”