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Calls for justice amid fears inquiry into killings of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira stalling

Scores of protesters have congregated outside the offices of Brazil’s Indigenous protection agency Funai in the riverside town of Atalaia do Norte, renewing calls for justice over the murders of journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous advocate Bruno Pereira.

Demonstrators – mostly Indigenous people from the Javari Valley – held orange and yellow banners, which read: “Protection for our Amazon forest”, “Amazon resist! Who ordered the killing?” and “Out Bolsonaro!”, amid growing fears that the criminal investigation into the murders was slowing.

“In my land the white man comes to impose fear. But we will not be afraid of the white man,” said Waki Mayuruna, an Indigenous leader and member of the Univaja collective. “We will keep defending our land. It’s not just today, this fight for our land is from long ago. We fight until the last Indian is alive.”

Many carried large banners and wore t-shirts bearing Phillips and Peirera’s faces alongside a picture of Maxciel Peirera dos Santos, the Funai agent who was shot dead in the nearby town of Tabatinga in 2019. “Justice for Dom and Bruno and Max,” said one sign.

Three men are currently in custody over the murder, but state police said on Sunday they were preparing to arrest five other suspects connected to the killing. The five men, investigators told the Guardian, were believed to have assisted the suspected murderers a day after the shooting by moving and burying remains.

A map of west side of the state of Amazonas in Brazil where Dom Philips and Bruno Pereira were last seen. The Amazon river and other smaller rivers are marked as are the towns of Atalaia do Norte and Benjamin Constant.

But, as of Wednesday evening, no arrests had been made. Atalaia do Norte police chief Alex Perez said that investigators had yet to recover the suspected murder weapon used to shoot the two men, believed to be a shotgun usually used for hunting.

The gunman is said to have dumped it somewhere in the Itaquai river, where the murder took place, but state police currently have no divers to support the investigation.

On Thursday, forensic investigators from the federal police were examining two boats, one belonging to Pereira and the other to Jefferson da Silva Lima, known as Pelado, the suspected gunman. The illegal fisherman is said to have confessed to killing the men and leading investigators to where their remains had been buried.

The visit revealed how the suspected murderer’s boat was much smaller and had a substantially more powerful engine, supporting the police’s theory that Phillips and Peirera were ambushed from behind.

Investigators are understood to have found a shotgun pellet hole on the steering wheel of Peirera’s boat.

State police also confirmed reports that investigators believe Peirera, who legally carried a firearm, had fired back at the attackers, but had already been fatally wounded at that point.

Peirera and Phillips were murdered in the Javari Valley, an increasingly dangerous, remote part of the Amazon rainforest. A combination of drug trafficking, illegal fishing, mining and logging has proliferated in the area under Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro.

The far right leader has cut back government presence in the region, with Funai and other government environment agencies stymied by budget cuts and personnel changes.

Indigenous leaders and security experts have argued the murders are directly linked to organized crime in the area. But Bolsonaro and local investigators have said the killings occurred due to a personal dispute with Pereira.

Phillips, a renowned reporter who covered the region in-depth, was a frequent contributor to the Guardian. Pereira a former senior administrator at Funai had been working in consultation with local Indigenous groups to bolster protections guaranteed under the Brazilian constitution.

The Javari Valley region, an area the size of Portugal, is home to one of the largest concentrations of uncontacted Indigenous communities in the world.

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