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Ecuador: the two journalists and their driver abducted are dead

Ⓒ AFP – RODRIGO BUENDIA – | Relatives of two Ecuadorian journalists Javier Ortega and Paul Rivas and their driver Efrain Segarra, light candles near their portraits after the announcement of their death on April 13, 2018 in Quito

Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno confirmed on Friday that his voice was shattered by the emotion that the entire country feared: the two journalists and the driver of the daily El Comercio, kidnapped at the end of March at the border with Colombia, were killed by their kidnappers.

“Unfortunately, the information we have confirmed the murder of our compatriots”, probably kidnapped by dissidents of the former Colombian guerrillas Farc (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) involved in drug trafficking, announced the head in a statement to the press in Quito.

“We are in mourning,” he said, a few hours after the end of the ultimatum he had issued to the kidnappers, demanding that they prove that the hostages were still alive.

Ⓒ AFP – Anella RETA – | Ecuador

The president, who had promised to act “with the utmost firmness” to “punish these people” in the absence of a positive response, immediately put his threat to execution.

“We have relaunched (…) the military and police operations that had been suspended in the border area and decided the immediate deployment of the elite units of the armed forces and the national police there”, he said. ad.

Hopes about the fate of the hostages, kidnapped on March 26 during a report on the border between Ecuador and Colombia, had thinned over the morning, the day after the broadcast of disturbing pictures of their possible corpses .

Ⓒ AFP – RODRIGO BUENDIA – | Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno at a press conference in Quito on April 13, 2018, confirming the deaths of three newspaper workers abducted at the Colombian border

Thursday night, Moreno had left the Summit of the Americas in Lima urgently to return to Ecuador, and Friday he held a crisis meeting with his government and security officials of the country.

His Colombian counterpart, Juan Manuel Santos, sent his defense minister, Luis Carlos Villegas, to Quito, as well as the top Colombian army and police leaders.

– terrible blow –

Reporter Javier Ortega, 32, photographer Paul Rivas, 45, and driver Efrain Segarra, 60, were kidnapped while reporting in the Ecuadorian town of Mataje, bordering Colombia.

They had not been seen alive since a video sent to the Colombian press on April 3rd. They appeared with their arms and neck chained.

Ⓒ AFP – RODRIGO BUENDIA – | Relatives and friends of the three employees of an Ecuadorian daily kidnapped and killed by their captors on April 13, 2018 in Quito

The confirmation of their death represents a terrible blow for Ecuador, which had not been confronted with a kidnapping of journalists for decades and boasted of being a safe haven from the violence generated by drug trafficking in Colombia.

Anxious, dozens of journalists, relatives of the hostages and citizens had gathered in the morning opposite the presidential palace in Quito, waiting to know the fate of the hostages.

From the beginning, Bogota has accused dissident Colombian guerrillas grouped under the name of Front Oliver Sinisterra and linked to drug trafficking to be the kidnappers.

This organization, which numbers between 70 and 80 men, is led by Ecuadorian Walter Artizala, nicknamed Guacho, who is one of the most sought-after men in both Colombia and Ecuador.

The group operates in a forest area used for the delivery of the drug.

The execution of the three men is the most dramatic episode of a wave of unprecedented violence that shakes Ecuador on its border.

Since January, the area where dissidents of the former FARC guerrillas have been operating has been the scene of a series of attacks against the Ecuadorian military, which killed three soldiers and injured 43 civilians and soldiers.

These attacks could be a direct consequence of the historic peace agreement signed in late 2016 between the Colombian government and the Farc.

The disarmament of what was the most powerful guerrilla force in Latin America, which has since become a political party, has indeed triggered territorial wars between dissident guerrillas, ex-demobilized paramilitaries and other armed groups.

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