Sat, Apr 14, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Ecuadoran president says taken reporters likely dead

MILITARY STRIKE:Photographs purporting to show the ‘El Comercio’ employees’ bodies appear authentic. The Ecuadoran president is calling for a ‘devastating’ response

AP, QUITO

Ricardo Rivas, left, brother of photographer Paul Rivas, and Galo Ortega, partially obscured, second from left, father of reporter Javier Ortega, walk away from a plane after arriving in Quito, Ecuador, on Thursday.

Photo: AP

Ecuadoran President Lenin Moreno said it was highly likely that three press workers kidnapped along the conflictive border with Colombia were killed and gave their drug-running captors 12 hours to demonstrate otherwise before launching a major military strike against them.

Moreno’s threat of military action late on Thursday came hours after a Colombian TV network said it had received gruesome photos purporting to show the bodies of the three men.

While forensic experts are still studying the photos, Moreno said there was an “enormous possibility” they are authentic.

“We’re a country of peace,” an emotional and visibly distraught Moreno said in late-night, televised comments from an airport hangar in Quito. “We can’t allow the criminals to impose their rules. We’re going to fight them in the realm that they have chosen and we are going to defeat them.”

As Moreno spoke, dozens of colleagues and friends of reporter Javier Ortega, photographer Paul Rivas and their driver Efrain Segarra held a candlelit vigil outside the presidential palace under the slogan “Three Are Missing,” as they have almost every night since their disappearance.

The three employees of the El Comercio newspaper were taken hostage three weeks ago by a holdout faction of the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia while investigating a rise in drug-fueled violence along Ecuador’s northern border.

Moreno returned early from a regional summit in Peru to oversee a crisis that has shaken Ecuadorans’ long-held self-identity as a largely peaceful nation insulated from the drug-fueled violence raging across its border.

With him were family members of the three men. They had traveled to Lima to seek a meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and generate attention to what they consider a slow, inadequate response by authorities.

Both the Ecuadoran and Colombian governments have tried to limit the fallout from the kidnapping, with military officials in both countries denying that the men were being held inside their territory.

If proof that the press workers were still alive was not forthcoming by 11am yesterday, he said that Ecuador’s military would conduct with their more battle-tested Colombian counterparts a “devastating” campaign to punish the kidnappers.

Ecuador is a major transit zone for Colombian-produced cocaine, with small boats carrying the drugs from the South American nation’s Pacific shore to Central America and on to the US.

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