Brazil expert and British journalist still missing from Amazon

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Two British journalists and an Indigenous affairs official are still missing from a remote area of Brazil's Amazon.

Brazil expert and British journalist still missing from Amazon

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Two British journalists and an Indigenous affairs official are still missing from a remote area of Brazil's Amazon. Authorities said on Tuesday that they were intensifying their search efforts. The area has been the scene of violent conflict between poachers, fishermen, and government agents.

Dom Phillips, a regular contributor to The Guardian's British newspaper, was last seen in Sao Rafael early Sunday morning, according to the Univaja association, which includes people from the Vale do Javari Indigenous territory. Pereira has served as an advisor.

They were about to return by boat to Atalaia Do Norte, which is approximately an hour away. However, they never arrived.

Pereira is one the most experienced employees of the Brazilian Indigenous Affairs Agency in the Vale do Javari region. Before he was on leave, Pereira managed the agency's regional offices and coordinated isolated Indigenous groups. He is often armed with a gun and has been threatened by poachers and illegal fishermen.

Univaja claimed that the two were threatened while on their reporting trip. Paulo Marubo (the president of the association) told The Associated Press that a small group traveled by river to the Indigenous territory boundary while they were camped out. They brandished firearms at a Unijava Patrol. Phillips took photographs of the men, Marubo stated.

Phillips, 57 years old, has been reporting from Brazil for over a decade. He is currently working on a book on preservation of Amazonia with support from the Alicia Patterson Foundation. This foundation gave Phillips a fellowship for one year for environmental reporting, which ran from January to January.

Univaja stated that the pair vanished after returning from a two day trip to Jaburu Lake, where Phillips had interviewed local Indigenous people. The boat was only the two of them.

They went missing from the Vale do Javari. This is Brazil's second largest Indigenous territory. It is larger than Maine, and home to several thousand Indigenous people in many villages. Locals believe that the men wouldn't have been lost in the sector.

Margaret Engel, executive director of the Alicia Patterson Foundation, said in an email that "He is a careful journalist, with impressive knowledge about the complexities of Brazil's environmental crisis." He is a wonderful writer and a charming person. Our business is at its best."

Brazil's federal public prosecutor said Monday in a statement that an investigation had been opened and that they had mobilized the Federal Police, Amazonas state’s civil police, national guard, and navy. Prosecutors said that the navy coordinated the search and sent seven search-and rescue teams. They also planned to deploy a helicopter Tuesday. On Monday, there were no reports that helicopters were being used. Many of the men's fellows expressed concern at the slow response of the government.

Pereira's family released a statement saying that they requested speedy, serious and all available resources from authorities to assist with the search. "Every minute counts. Every stretch of river or forest that has not been checked could be the one they are waiting to rescue them."

Officials didn't give any indications as to why the army wasn't included during the initial search efforts. The army's resources are far more than those of the navy in the area. A spokesperson for the Amazon division of the army told AP late Monday that it had received orders to send a search team.

Phillips has also contributed to The Washington Post and New York Times. Phillips currently lives in Salvador in Brazil's Bahia State with his wife Alessandra Sampaio. A journalist who helped her to advice her posted a series on Twitter messages.

Sampaio wrote, "I can only pray Dom and Bruno are safe, somewhere, prevented to continue on for some mechanical cause, and that all this becomes just one story in a lifetime replete with them." "I am aware of the Amazon's current situation and the risks that Dom has always condemned."

There have been numerous shootouts in Vale do Javari between fishermen, hunters, and security agents. They maintain a permanent base there, which is home to the largest uncontacted Indigenous population in the world. It is also an important route for cocaine, which is produced on the Peruvian border and then smuggled into Brazil to be supplied to local cities or shipped to Europe.

Tabatinga was the biggest city in the region when a Tabatinga employee of the Indigenous Affairs agency was gunned down in September 2019. The crime was never solved.

Maria Laura Canineau (director of Human Rights Watch Brazil) stated Monday that it was crucial for Brazilian authorities to immediately realize searches in order to ensure the safety of these men.

In recent years, journalists working in Amazon for national media outlets have been killed. However, there have not been any such cases in foreign or national media journalists. There have been numerous threats and press access has been restricted to areas that are dominated criminal activity like illegal mining and land-grabbing.

Former President LuizInacio Lula Da Silva wrote on Twitter: "I hope they're found soon, that their safety is assured," Tuesday morning, President Jair Bolsonaro did not respond to the tweet.

------ AP authors Mauricio Savarese from Sao Paulo contributed this report.

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