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John Kerry promises to ‘follow up’ on missing British journalist and Indigenous guide in Amazon

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John Kerry has promised to “follow up” on the disappearances of the British journalist and Indigenous affairs official who vanished in a remote part of the Amazon on Sunday.

The US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate made the commitment after the disappearances were raised with him by Sônia Guajajara, an Indigenous Peoples leader from Brazil, at the Time100 Summit in New York City on Tuesday.

Dom Phillips, 57, and Bruno Araújo Pereira were last seen three days ago on a boat in the remote Javari region.

Authorities in Brazil claim they are expanding the search for the two men in the area, which has seen violent conflicts between fishermen, poachers and government agents.

Sec. Kerry had a brief conversation with Ms Guajajara following the summit on Tuesday morning. Via a translator, she raised the issue of the missing men, saying that “a journalist from England and Indigenous [expert] from Brazil have disappeared in the middle of the Amazon forest”.

Mr Kerry appeared to be unaware of the case, and turned to an assistant to ask if they had the contact information of the Indigenous leader and her team.

“We’ll follow up with you,” Mr Kerry said, before adding that he had to leave for a flight.

Mr Kerry is due to attend the Summit of the Americas in California on Wednesday with President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Mr Biden is expected to meet with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at the event in Los Angeles.

The Independent has contacted the US State Department for comment on Mr Kerry’s remarks, and whether the disappearances will be raised with the Brazilian leader.

HoweverThe Associated Press earlier reported that Mr Bolsonaro’s attendance was predicated on a private meeting with Mr Biden, and if the US leader would refrain from raising contentious issues including the destruction of the Amazon.

Mr Bolsonaro has not commented on the case. Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva tweeted: “I hope they are found soon, that they are well and safe.”

Ms Guajajara was attending the event where she was being honored as one of Time’s Most Influential People of 2022.

In a second WhatsApp video, seen by The Independent, Ms Guajajara says: “Unfortunately, I can’t even celebrate or commemorate being on this list because I have to lament… the disappearance of indigenous activist Bruno and journalist Dom Phillips who have vanished, simply vanished, and no one knows where they are.”

She added: “The search is so slow, and it is pitiful that we continue to live in a situation where there is no security.

“We need for authorities to take a position, and start to actively look for them in a responsible manner. I wanted to come here to New York to denounce this situation to the world so that everyone’s attention is on this situation and on the permanent violence that Indigenous peoples and our supporters are constantly facing. That is all. We will continue to fight. The struggle is always.”

Mr Phillips is a regular contributor to The Guardian newspaper and has been reporting from Brazil for about a decade. Mr Pereira is an experienced Indigenous affairs expert who oversaw the coordination of isolated Indigenous groups from his agency’s regional office.

They were last seen early on Sunday travelling from the Vale do Javari Indigenous territory to the city of Atalaia do Norte. The journey should have taken around an hour but they never arrived.

The Associated Press reported that Mr Pereira has received a stream of threats from illegal fishermen and poachers, and usually carries a gun.

The Univaja association of people in the Vale do Javari Indigenous territory, for which Pereira has been an adviser, reported that the two had been threatened during their reporting trip.

Brazil’s federal public prosecutors said in a statement Monday that they had opened an investigation and that the Federal Police, Amazonas state’s civil police, the national guard and navy had been mobilized. The navy, which prosecutors described as coordinating the search, said it sent a search-and-rescue team of seven and would deploy a helicopter Tuesday.

The army’s footprint and manpower is far greater than the navy’s in the region, and there was no indication from officials on why it wasn’t included in the initial search efforts. But late Monday, a spokesperson for the army’s Amazon division told AP it had since received orders to deploy a search mission.

The Vale do Javari region has experienced repeated shootouts between hunters, fishermen and official security agents, who have a permanent base in the area, which has the world’s largest population of uncontacted Indigenous people. It is also a major route for cocaine produced on the Peruvian side of the border, then smuggled into Brazil to supply local cities or to be shipped to Europe.

In September 2019, an employee of the Indigenous affairs agency was shot dead in Tabatinga, the largest city in the region. The crime was never solved.

Journalists working for regional media outlets in the Amazon have been slain in recent years, though there have been no such cases among journalists from national media nor foreign media.

However, there have been several reports of threats, and the press has limited access to several areas dominated by criminal activity, including illegal mining, landgrabbing and drug trafficking.

AP contributed to this report

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