ATALAIA DO NORTE (Brazil) -- Brazilian authorities started using helicopters to search remote areas of the Amazon rainforest in search of a British journalist, and an Indigenous official who had been missing for more than three days.
Amazonas state civil police also announced Wednesday that they had arrested a suspect for carrying a firearm without a permit. This is a common practice in the region. However, Gen. Carlos Alberto Mansur the state's public safety secretary said that they did not have any evidence to link the suspect to the disappearances.
Mansur stated that they are still looking for a link but have no information at this point. He said that Amarildo da Oliveira, also called "Pelado", was still in custody.
Five other officers have been questioned by police since the beginning of the investigation, but no arrests related to the disappearances have been made. Authorities stated this in their first joint public address.
Dom Phillips, a journalist who regularly contributes to The Guardian newspaper, and Bruno Araujo Pereira (an employee of Brazilian Indigenous affairs agency with extensive knowledge in the region), were last seen in Sao Rafael, in the Javari Valley Indigenous territory, early Sunday.
Two of the men were threatened by a small group who traveled by river to the Indigenous territory boundary. They brandished guns at Univaja's patrol, which is an Indigenous association. Paulo Marubo (the president of the association) previously stated to the Associated Press, that Phillips had taken photographs of the men and Pelado was among them.
Phillips and Pereira had planned to return by boat to Atalaia Do Norte but were never able to arrive.
Pereira and Phillips expressed concern that authorities have not been able to quickly start or continue their search efforts. They also expressed concerns about Phillips' family members, peers and leaders on the ground.
Phillips' family and supporters held a vigil in London outside the Brazilian Embassy and asked officials to explain why the search took so long.
"We had no choice but to arrive this morning to ask the question: Where is Dom Phillips?" Bruno Pereira is missing. Sian Phillips, Phillips' sister, spoke to reporters. "We are here in order to point out why it took so long for them start the search for my brother, and for Bruno. We want the search for Bruno to continue."
After Univaja and federal public defender filed a request, a Brazilian federal court issued Wednesday's order directing authorities to provide more helicopters and boats. Federal police displayed multiple photos and videos from the area that were taken earlier in the day by a helicopter at an evening news conference.
One of the three directors at the Indigenous affairs agency was fired Wednesday. According to the agency, the decision was made in May and had nothing to do with the case.
Gustavo da Cruz (an employee of the Indigenous affairs Agency) announced in Congress that a 24-hour strike would be held for June 13. Da Cruz stated that if public service was a secure career, it's now a career of fear and death.
Multiple shootouts have taken place between fishermen, hunters, and security officers in the area. It is home to the largest concentration of Indigenous peoples worldwide. It is also an important route for cocaine that was produced on the Peruvian border. The cocaine is then smuggled into Brazil to supply local communities or be shipped to Europe.
Federal police stated Wednesday that 250 personnel from the military, navy, police, and firefighters were part of the search.
Phillips, 57 years old, has been reporting from Brazil for over a decade. He has been working with the Alicia Patterson Foundation on a book about the preservation of the Amazon. Alessandra Sampaio was Phillips' wife and recorded a video in which she pleaded with authorities and the government to increase search efforts.
We still have hope of finding them. She said that even if I don’t find my love, they must still be found," she posted in a video on Twitter.
Artists, scientists, journalists, and soccer stars, including Pele, joined her call. They posted messages on social media asking for assistance from authorities.
Pereira worked in Javari Valley since the beginning for the Brazilian Indigenous Affairs Agency. Before he was let go, he managed their regional office and coordinated isolated Indigenous groups. He was threatened by poachers and illegal fishermen for years.
Tuesday's comments by President Jair Bolsonaro, describing the work of the two men as an "aventure", drew criticism.
"Really, only two people can be in a boat in such a wild area. It is not recommended. It could happen. He said that it could have been an accident or they could have died," he told SBT in an interview. We pray and thank God for their quick recovery. The armed forces are hard at work."
Jeantet reported from Rio de Janeiro.