Ecuador president says journalists were killed

Howard TerryApr 14, 2018

Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno gives a news conference after two Ecuadorean journalists and their driver, who were kidnapped last month by Colombian insurgents, have been killed, in Quito, Ecuador April 13, 2018.

The journalists and their driver were on assignment for the Quito-based El Comercio newspaper on the border between Ecuador and Colombia when they were seized on March 26. "We stay in touch with worldwide organizations to coordinate the return of the bodies", Moreno stated at a press conference in Ecuador's capital, Quito.

"Despite our best efforts, we've confirmed that these criminals never had the intention of handing them back safe and sound", Moreno said.

Bogota also sent troops into the dense jungle border zone where the remnants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group operate - a key point on the trade route for drugs destined for Central America or the United States. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos dispatched his top military advisers to Quito to assist in the military planning.

However forensic experts in both countries were unable to confirm the authenticity of the images, exasperating press groups and family members who say the government had been taking the incident too lightly.

The killing of journalists is rare in Ecuador which has seen the local press report on the Colombian civil war for decades but have rarely been targeted by the rebels.

On Thursday a Colombian TV network said it obtained gruesome photos purporting to show the bodies of the three men.

The region has always been a hotbed for Colombian drug traffickers and rebel groups (which are often the same), and has been the setting for a string of recent attacks against military targets.

Earlier this week, authorities dismissed as fake a statement signed by the captors claiming the journalists were killed during a military raid co-ordinated by the two governments.

The Ecuadorean government said on Tuesday that it was not negotiating with the kidnappers, but was analyzing "every possibility" to secure their release.

Ecuador's military has blamed the abduction on the Oliver Sinisterra Front, a group which counts between 70 and 80 rebels and is headed by Walter Artizala, an Ecuadoran in his 30s who goes by the name "Guacho".

Interior Minister Cesar Navas said earlier this week that the violence in the province, including a auto bomb in January and the killing of four marines on patrol by a nail bomb in March, has escalated because the new Moreno administration had taken the threat of drug trafficking seriously and arrested leading members of the breakaway rebel group.

Moreno announced in March that he was boosting security to the region, sending 12,000 soldiers and police to combat drug gangs. That represents about 10 per cent of the small nation's police officers and troops.

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