Five more arrested in Brazil for the murders of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira

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Brazilian police arrested five other people in connection with the killings of British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian indigenous activist Bruno Pereira on Saturday, and said one of the suspects already detained was likely the leader of an illegal fishing mafia based in the Amazon region. .

Although they gave few details, police said three of those detained in operations near Brazil’s border with Peru and Colombia were wanted for helping to bury the bodies of Phillips and Pereira.

All three are relatives of Amarildo da Costa Oliveira, one of three men charged last month with the double homicide in a case that shocked the world and highlighted growing insecurity in the densely forested region.

Phillips, 57, and Pereira, 41, disappeared in the Javari Valley of western Brazil on June 5, at the end of a trip Phillips had organized to report on a book on sustainable development. Phillips had written for the Observer and the Guardian, as well as other publications.

Related: Brazil ‘does not fully investigate’ the murders of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira

Pereira, a former employee of Brazil’s state indigenous agency, knew the area well and was helping the Brit with his research.

The men were ambushed early in the morning as they were traveling down the Itaquaí River in their boat. Police believe their attackers shot them dead and then carried their bodies into the jungle, where they buried them in the hastily dug grave.

However, two of the suspects confessed to the crime and took the police to the place where they had buried their bodies.

Police believe the killers were concerned that Pereira had photographs and evidence that they were fishing in off-limits areas for endangered species, including turtles and arapaima, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish.

A single arapaima can fetch up to $1,000 in markets in Brazil and Colombia, and police believe criminal mafias partner with poor local fishermen to hunt the animals, often on indigenous reservations where access to outsiders is prohibited.

They arrested a man last month for using false identity documents and on Saturday said they identified him as Ruben Dario da Silva Villar, also known as “Colombia”.

The police “found strong indications that Colombia is the leader and financier of an armed criminal association dedicated to the practice of illegal fishing in the Javari Valley. [and] responsible for the sale and export of large quantities of fish”, the Federal Police said in a statement.

Local news said Silva Villar provided the local fisherman with boats, engines and bait.

Indigenous activists in the region welcomed the news “with great joy” and said it marked “the beginning of justice”.

A lawyer for the indigenous organization Univaja said the arrests, and particularly the one in Colombia, confirmed his original thesis – that the murders were not committed by individuals working alone, but with the collaboration or orders of a local mafia.

“A criminal organization has been operating in the Javari Valley for a long time and today’s investigations, operations and arrests only reinforce that,” said Eliesio Marubo, a lawyer at Univaja. “So we feel represented. This is the beginning of justice for our friends who were brutally murdered.”

“This reinforces the need for the State to participate in an area that has been abandoned by the State,” he added.

The investigation continues.

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