Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno has confirmed that three Ecuadorean journalists kidnapped by a splinter FARC group have been killed.
Javier Ortega, Paúl Rivas and Efraín Segarra, who worked for the Ecuadorean newspaper El Comercio, were kidnapped more than two weeks ago in the Colombia-Ecuador bordea area by a dissident FARC group that has not signed on to ongoing peace process in Colombia. The group was working in Mataje, in the northern province of Esmeraldas, when they were kidnapped. Ortega, a 36-year old journalist, photographer Rivas, aged 45, and their driver Segarra, 60, were last seen on March 26.
“With a heavy heart, I regret to inform you that the 12 hour deadline has passed. We have not received proof of life and unfortunately we have information that confirms the murder of our compatriots” said Moreno.
Ecuadorean authorities had given the FARC group 12 hours to provide proof of life of the journalists before initiating military action.
The journalists had been held by the Frente Oliver Sinisterra, a dissident FARC group lead by Ecuadorean national Walter Artízala, alias Guacho. The group has been accused of violence and drug trafficking activities in the border region. Moreno has offered a US$ 100,000 reward for information leading to his arrest, which is further to an existing reward offered by Colombia.
The Colombian peace process has signed the vast majority of FARC groups demobilize and progressively return to society, following decades of political violence.
Moreno rushed back on Thursday to Ecuador from Peru where was due to attend the Summit of the Americas. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has offered his government’s full support and solidarity. As such the border area has been declared a “security zone” and will the subject of increased military and police activity on both sides of the border. The Colombian Defense minister and the chief of police are in Ecuador to confer with the authorities.
The kidnappers have released a statement indicating that the hostages were killed as a result of military action attempting to rescue them, a charge that both Quito and Bogotá have denied.
“We are in mourning, but we will allow ourselves to be intimidated, today more than ever I ask the country for unity for peace” said Moreno.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has offered to mediate in order to recover the bodies of the slain journalists.
A press release by the Argentine Foreign Ministry condemned the murders and expressed solidarity with the families of the journalists.