Published: Sat, April 14, 2018

Ecuadorean journalists held by Colombian rebels confirmed dead

Ecuadorean journalists held by Colombian rebels confirmed dead

Marxist rebels have killed two journalists and their driver abducted near the southern border of Colombia and Ecuador, President Lenín Moreno of Ecuador said Friday.

Moreno had given kidnappers a 12-hour ultimatum on Thursday night to prove whether the victims were alive. It's still not clear how they died but Moreno denied the hostage takers' unsubstantiated claims it was the result of a stealth military operation.

In response, the government pledged to do "everything possible and impossible so that they return safe and sound", a presidential spokesman said. They went to Lima to seek a meeting with Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos amid what they consider a slow, inadequate response by authorities in both countries.

The bloodshed highlights problems ahead for governments in both countries, which in 2016 celebrated the signing of peace accords between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, and the Colombian government. He also said that he has contacted the Catholic Church and the International Red Cross, among other organisations, for help to "locate and repatriate" the bodies of the abductees.

The journalists' kidnapping has alarmed and unsettled Ecuador, where it was believed to be the first such abduction in three decades.

The image is being analyzed by forensic analysts, but Ecuador's interior minister, Cesar Navas, said he could not confirm if it was the three media workers.

"Regrettably, we have information that confirms the murder of our compatriots", he said on state TV.

The three - a reporter, Javier Ortega; a photographer, Paúl Rivas; and their driver, Efraín Segarra - were working for El Comercio, a large daily newspaper in the Ecuadorean capital, Quito.

"The people forgive when mistakes are made, but not when it is being lied to, we will not lie to the Ecuadorian people", he added. Rivas, 45, was a prize-winning photographer and collector of antique cameras - more than 40 sit in a glass cabinet at his home - who learned his trade from his father and passed it on to his daughter.

"We condemn the actions of the Colombian and Ecuadorian governments and their lack of seriousness in protecting the reporters' lives", a statement from Colombia's Foundation for Press Liberty said.

While more than a dozen journalists used to be killed every year in Colombia at the height of Pablo Escobar's reign in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the numbers have fallen dramatically as the country's half-century conflict winds down to that point only a single press worker was killed in 2017, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Moreno seemed to acknowledge the criticisms when he said the time for restraint was over.

The so-called Oliver Sinisterra Front had demanded the release of three jailed members and an end to a bilateral anti-terrorism deal in exchange for the hostages. The group is believed responsible for a string of recently deadly attacks in northern Ecuador against military targets.

Moreno announced in March that he was boosting security to the region, sending 12,000 soldiers and police to combat drug gangs.

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