Brazilian police have identified five more people involved in the murders of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira

Police investigating the murder of British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous lawyer Bruno Pereira have identified five more people involved in the killings, bringing the number of suspects in a crime that has shocked Brazil to eight.

Police had already arrested two brothers, one of whom confessed to the crime, and a third man turned himself in to authorities on Saturday.

State police in Atalaia do Norte, the waterfront town where Phillips and Pereira began their last journey, told the Guardian that the five suspects were being investigated for their alleged involvement in helping the men move Phillips’ remains. Pereira 24 hours after the shooting.

Researcher David Da Rocha described the investigation as “90% complete” and said the planned arrests were likely to be the last in the process. He said the five men he was waiting to arrest were relatives of the two detained brothers. Police were awaiting a court order to begin the arrests and were also expected to be charged with homicide.

Da Rocha maintained his belief that the murder suspects had not acted on anyone’s orders and claimed that the crime was not part of a larger criminal conspiracy. This characterization, shared by the Brazilian federal police, has been strongly opposed by indigenous activists in the region, who have argued that the killings were linked to organized crime groups.

Phillips was a British journalist researching a book on sustainable development in the Amazon region, and Pereira helped him negotiate remote parts of the rainforest where he interviewed.

The couple were shot dead on June 5 and buried deep in the rainforest. Their bodies were discovered last week, when one of the two brothers confessed to the crime.

Police said Phillips had been shot dead in the body, while Pereira was shot three times, twice in the chest and abdomen and once in the head. The weapons used in the killing were of the type used by hunters, police said.

The announcement came when unions working for Brazil’s national indigenous agency, Funai, called a five-day strike this week with the aim of ousting the organization’s president, who is said to be working on against the interests of the indigenous people of Brazil.

Officials with three unions will vote on the strike on Monday, but are confident that members of most of Brazil’s 27 states will join the strike, which also aims to force authorities to expand their investigation into the crime.

“The focus of the strike is to force the exit [the Funai president] Marcelo Xavier, “said Priscila Colotetti, executive director of Indigenistas Associados, an employee association of Funai.” Under Xavier, it’s not that indigenous policies are difficult to enact, it’s that there are no indigenous policies. we need a longer strike to press.

“We are also pressing for a proper investigation into the murder of Dom and Bruno so that they can find out who ordered the crime.”

Officials said last week that the suspects had acted alone, but that conclusion was questioned, especially by local indigenous groups, who had previously denounced the presence of drug gangs and organized crime mafias in the region.

The announcement adds to the widespread lack of confidence of the local population in state bodies such as the police and, increasingly, the Funai.

The indigenous foundation has been undermined and underfunded by Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, current and former officials said. Bolsonaro wants to open up indigenous lands to loggers and miners, further threatening communities living in the area for thousands of years.

Xavier’s place at the head of an organization in charge of the care and protection of some 235 indigenous tribes has also been questioned, including by Pereira, a former employee of Funai.

Xavier said that in the days following the couple’s disappearance, they had not obtained the necessary permits to enter indigenous land, as required in Brazil. However, indigenous groups said they did not need the permits because they had not ventured into indigenous territory. A judge agreed, telling Xavier to withdraw his statement from Funai’s website and to refrain from denigrating the two missing men. Funai complied.

Funai made a late statement on June 16, saying “Pereira leaves an immense legacy” and celebrated what he called his “extreme dedication … to indigenous peoples, for whom he worked tirelessly.”

Pereira, 41, had already confronted Xavier, a former police chief appointed by Bolsonaro in July 2019. Pereira worked with Funai until the end of that year, when Xavier fired him. Pereira said he believed the decision had been made because he had successfully led an operation against illegal mining in indigenous lands.

After leaving Funai, the father of three went to work with indigenous communities in the Javari Valley, a remote, densely wooded region along Brazil’s western border with Peru. It was there, on a quiet stretch of the Itaquai River, that he and Phillips were last seen alive.

Sunday’s strike call comes five days after union members at Funai headquarters in the capital, Brasilia, joined colleagues from two other states in a dazzling one-day stop.

Colotetti said staff were being threatened with dismissal if they went ahead with the strike, but would not be intimidated.

“We will lose money from the days we are out and there are other threats coming through later channels as well,” he said. “People in senior positions are being warned that they will be fired, and those on duty are being warned that they will be sent back. The directors are trying to stop them.”

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