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Amazon killers acted alone: Brazil police
Amazon killers acted alone: Brazil police / Photo: © AFP

Amazon killers acted alone: Brazil police

Brazilian police said Friday the killers of British journalist Dom Phillips and his expert guide Bruno Pereira had acted on their own initiative and not as part of a criminal group -- an assertion rejected by Indigenous leaders.

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"The investigations... suggest that the perpetrators acted alone, without there being an intellectual author or criminal organization behind the crime," the Federal Police said in a statement.

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

Veteran correspondent Phillips, 57, and Pereira, 41, went missing on June 5 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 experts.

Police have said there was "a 99 percent probability" the remains belong to the missing men.

- 'A powerful criminal organization' -

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 missing men, on Friday refuted the police's conclusion that the killers had acted alone.

"These are not just two killers, but an organized 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 to say that "Pelado" was involved in illegal fishing.

He had previously been accused, it said, of "being the perpetrator of gun attacks in 2018 and 2019 against a base of FUNAI," the organization Pereira had worked for.

Univaja said that "a powerful criminal organization (had) tried at all costs to cover its tracks during the investigation" of the double murder.

Experts say illegal fishing of endangered species in the Javari Valley takes place under the control of drug traffickers who use the sale of fish to launder drug money.

- 'Brutal act of violence' -

On Thursday, the UN denounced a "brutal act of violence" as activists blamed the murders on President Jair Bolsonaro for allowing commercial exploitation of the Amazon at the cost of environment and law and order.

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 contained "no human DNA," according to police.

On Monday, Bolsonaro had said that entrails were found floating in the river, in an interview in which he appeared to blame the missing men for undertaking a "reckless" trip in an area where Phillips was "disliked."

"All signs indicate that if they were killed -- and I hope that's not the case -- they're in the water, and in the water there won't be much left. I don't know if there are piranhas in the Javari," said the far-right president, whose government is accused of dragging its feet in the investigation.