MOSCOW: Russian investigators have opened a murder case after two fishermen were rescued following three months lost in a remote Far East forest amid fears the pair could have eaten a companion to stay alive, officials said Wednesday.
The two men disappeared in August on a river fishing expedition to the vast Yakutia region in the Russian Far East, one of the most remote and inhospitable places in the world.
Rescuers finally found two of the men this month by the Sutam River some 250 kilometres (155 miles) from the nearest town of Neryungri in the south of Yakutia but without two companions.
The men, both inhabitants of the Russian Far East, claimed that their group had split up and said the others were likely still alive as they were used to living in the open.
But a murder probe was opened after a team of top investigators from the regional capital Yakutsk found fragments of a human corpse close to the place where the pair was found.
"Investigators carried out an examination of two areas. Fragments of a human corpse with signs of a violent death were discovered and removed," the Yakutia branch of Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement.
"A criminal case into suspected murder has been opened."
Russia has no article in the criminal code for cannibalism but the state RIA Novosti news agency said that the initial theory was that the two men had eaten one companion. It was not clear what happened to the fourth man.
The pair, aged 37 and 35, have denied any wrongdoing and said they had managed to survive as the winter set in a wooden hut by foraging for wild foods.
But the lifenews.ru website said they had fled the hospital where they were being treated for severe frostbite and were now on the run from investigators.
The Yakutia investigators said that DNA and pathological testing has been ordered and they are working urgently to uncover what happened.