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Abducted journalists are dead, says Ecuador president

14 April 2018

Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno arrives at the airport for upcoming Summit of the Americas in Lima Thomson Reuters QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno on Thursday gave a Colombian insurgent group 12 hours to prove that two journalists and their driver, kidnapped last month on their common border, are alive or their security forces would take joint action against them.

In the video, the unidentified captors said they would release the hostages if Ecuador stopped helping Colombia fight the guerillas.

The ultimatum was issued late on Thursday by President Lenin Moreno, who gave the kidnappers until 11:00 am (1600 GMT) to give an answer after his government received photos from a Colombian TV station suggesting the trio, all Ecuadorians, were dead.

Ecuadoran experts examined the photos but were unable to confirm their authenticity.

Relatives of the victims arrive for a meeting after two Ecuadorean journalists and their driver who were kidnapped last month by Colombian insurgents have been killed in Quito Ecuador

Journalist Javier Ortega, photographer Paul Rivas and driver Efrain Segarra were kidnapped on March 26 on the northern border with Colombia, in Esmeraldas, while reporting on a series of violent attacks against Ecuadorean security forces.

He said elite troops would soon be deployed to the northern border area where the employees of El Comercio newspaper were last seen almost three weeks ago while investigating a rise in drug-fueled violence.

Moreno was already in Lima when the photographs emerged, prompting him to urgently return to Quito to handle the crisis.

Moreno appeared make good on his threat, immediately ordering the resumption of military operations on the border and dispatching representatives from the Catholic church in order to mediate the recovery of bodies. "It seems these criminals never planned to deliver them back safely".

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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.

On April 3, Colombia's RCN television aired a 23-second video showing the trio wearing chains with locks around their necks, in what was the first proof of life. It condemned the "lack of diligence in protecting the lives of reporters" and said the two presidents had failed to work together in a timely manner to secure the hostages' release.

According to communications that have reached Colombian media and Ecuadorian foundations, their kidnapping and murder has been attributed, and self-claimed, to the group "Oliver Sinisterra" -under investigation- led by a dissident of the FARC that responds to the nickname of "Guacho".

The group is thought to number 70 to 80 people and is involved in cross-border drug trafficking through the jungle.

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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.

The FARC has always been active in the remote Ecuador-Colombia border region.

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Abducted journalists are dead, says Ecuador president