Dom Phillips and his guide Bruno Pereira went missing June 5 in a remote part of the Amazon that is rife with environmental crimes including illegal mining, fishing and logging, as well as drug trafficking.
Police did not specify whether the suspect, Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, also confessed to killing the pair, saying only that he admitted to having participated in the episode and “recounted in detail the crime that was committed and indicated the place where he buried the bodies.”
Eduardo Alexandre Fontes, head of federal police in Brazil’s Amazonas state, said during a press conference in Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon, that the location where the remains were found was “very difficult to reach.”
“Excavations have been carried out on site. The excavations will continue, but human remains have already been found,” he said.
“As soon as we have been able to verify with the help of expertise that it is indeed the remains of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira, they will be returned to the families.”
Earlier in the day, Oliveira was taken by police to the search site along the Itaquai River, media reports said.
Phillips’ Brazilian wife, Alessandra Sampaio, in a statement yesterday thanked “all the teams that carried out the search, especially the Indigenous volunteers,” whose absence from the press conference was criticised by some observers.
“Although we are still awaiting final confirmation, this tragic finale puts an end to the anguish of not knowing where Dom and Bruno were,” she said.
“Today we also begin our fight for justice... we will only have peace when the necessary measures are taken to ensure that such tragedies do not happen again.”
The other suspect, a man reported to be Oliveira’s brother, Oseney da Costa Oliveira, was arrested Tuesday in Atalaia do Norte, the small northern city that Phillips and Pereira were returning to when they disappeared in the remote Javari Valley after receiving threats during a trip.
Amarildo, a fisherman, had been arrested on June 7. Both of the suspects are 41 years old.
Phillips, 57, a long-time contributor to Britain’s The Guardian and other leading international newspapers, was working on a book on sustainable development in the Amazon.
Pereira, 41, a highly regarded advocate for the region’s Indigenous peoples, was acting as his guide while on leave from his job with the Brazilian government’s Indigenous affairs agency, or FUNAI.
The father of three had repeatedly reported being threatened by loggers, miners and illegal fishermen who tried to encroach on protected lands.
The two men’s disappearance sparked global outrage, drawing reaction from high profile political figures as well as celebrities such as members of Irish rock band U2.
President Jair Bolsonaro had said Monday that entrails were found in the water during search operations, but police never confirmed this.
The day before, police said they had found personal effects belonging to the two missing men.
Bolsonaro - whose government has been accused of dragging its feet in the investigation - drew fresh criticism yesterday for saying a Phillips was “disliked” for his reporting on the region and should have been more careful.
“That Englishman was disliked in the region, because he wrote a lot of articles against illegal gold miners (and) environmental issues,” Bolsonaro said.
“A lot of people didn’t like him. He should have more than redoubled the precautions he was taking. And he decided to go on an excursion instead,” he told journalist Leda Nagle in an interview for her YouTube channel.
“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,” Bolsonaro added.
He again appeared to blame the missing men, saying it was “very reckless to travel in that region without being sufficiently prepared, physically and with weapons.”
His comments triggered an outcry from critics.
“How disgusting,” journalist Ana Luiza Basilio wrote on Twitter.
Opposition lawmaker Orlando Silva agreed, tweeting: “The victims are not the ones to blame.
“The government has an obligation to protect the country and not incentivize the criminals controlling the region.”