The federal investigator, Eduardo Alexandre Fontes, said Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, 41, nicknamed Pelado, told officers he used a firearm to kill Brazil’s indigenous expert Bruno Pereira and British freelance reporter Dom Phillips.
Torres said Pelado took police to a site on Wednesday where they found human remains. The remains had not yet been positively identified, Torres said.
“We found the bodies three kilometers (almost two miles) into the forest,” the researcher said.
He said other arrests will be made in the case soon.
Another officer, Guilherme Torres of Amazonas State Police, said the missing man’s boat had not yet been found, but police knew of the area where it was allegedly hidden by those involved in the crime.
“They put bags of dirt on the boat so it would sink,” he said.
As federal police announced they would hold a press conference, Pereira’s colleagues called a vigil outside the headquarters of the Brazilian government’s Indigenous Affairs Office in Brasilia. Pereira was on leave from the bureau.
Pereira, 41, and Phillips, 57, were last seen on their boat in a river at the entrance to the indigenous area of the Javari Valley, which borders Peru and Colombia. Violent clashes have occurred in that area between fishermen, poachers and government officials.
Davelopments started moving on Wednesday when federal police officers took a suspect they did not identify at the time down the river to search groups looking for Phillips and Pereira.
An Associated Press photographer in Atalaia do Norte, the town closest to the search area, witnessed the arrest of the suspect, who was in a hood.
Police said Tuesday they had arrested a second suspect in connection with the disappearance. He was identified as Oseney da Costa de Oliveira, 41, a fisherman and brother of Pelado, who police had already identified as their prime suspect.
De Oliveira told the AP on Friday that he had visited Pelado in prison and was told that local police had tortured him while trying to get a confession. De Oliveira said his brother was innocent.
Indigenous people who were with Pereira and Phillips have said Pelado waved a rifle at them the day before the two men disappeared.
Pelado’s family had told AP that he had denied anything, alleging that police tortured him to try to get a confession.
Official search teams had concentrated their efforts around a spot in the Itaquai River where a tarp from the boat used by the missing men was found on Saturday by volunteers from the Matis Indigenous group.
“We used a small canoe to get to the shallows. Then we found a tarp, shorts and a spoon,” one of the volunteers, Binin Beshu Matis, told The Associated Press.
Authorities began searching the area and discovered a backpack, laptop and other personal belongings underwater on Sunday. Police said that evening they had identified the items as belonging to both missing men, including a health card and Pereira’s clothing. The backpack was determined to be Phillips’s.
Police previously reported that they found traces of blood in Pelado’s boat. Officers also found organic material of apparently human origin in the river sent for analysis.
Authorities have said a mainline of the police investigation into the disappearance has pointed to an international network that pays poor fishermen to fish illegally in the Javari Valley reserve, Brazil’s second largest indigenous area.
One of its most valuable targets is the world’s largest freshwater fish with scales, the arapaima. It weighs up to 200 kilograms (440 pounds) and can reach 3 meters (10 feet). The fish is sold in nearby towns including Leticia, Colombia, Tabatinga, Brazil and Iquitos, Peru.
Pereira, who previously headed the local office of the Brazilian government’s indigenous agency known as FUNAI, has participated in several operations against illegal fishing. In such operations, as a rule, the fishing gear is seized or destroyed, while the fishermen are fined and detained briefly. Only the indigenous people are allowed to fish legally on their territory.
“The motive of the crime is a personal feud over the fisheries inspectorate,” Atalaia do Norte mayor Denis Paiva speculated to reporters without giving more details.
AP had access to information the police shared with the indigenous leaders. While some police, the mayor and others in the region have linked the couple’s disappearances to the “fish mafia,” federal police have not ruled out other lines of investigation, such as drug trafficking.
Torres, the federal police officer, reiterated that point Wednesday night, saying he could not discuss the details of the investigation.
“We’re working with different lines of research,” he said.
In 2019, Funai official Maxciel Pereira dos Santos was gunned down in Tabatinga in front of his wife and daughter-in-law. Three years later, the crime remains unsolved. His FUNAI colleagues told AP they believe the murder is related to his work against fishermen and poachers.
____ Maisonnave reported from Leticia, Colombia.