QUITO – Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno has set a 12-hour deadline, which began on Thursday, for kidnappers to provide proof that a team of journalists who were abducted at the end of March were alive, and warned of strong action if they were not returned safely.
On March 26, journalist Javier Ortega, 36, photographer Paul Rivas, 45, and driver Efrain Segarra, 60, who worked for the El Comercio newspaper, were kidnapped in Mataje in the northwestern Esmeraldas province, while reporting on recent attacks in the region.
“I give these narcos 12 hours to give us proof of the existence of our compatriots otherwise we will go with all forcefulness, without any hesitation, to punish these human rights violators,” warned Moreno, who returned to Lima early from the Summit of the Americas on Thursday night.
On Wednesday, a statement on social media, allegedly by the Oliver Sinisterra Front cartel, an armed group led by a former member of the Colombian guerrilla, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), under the alias Gaucho, had claimed the reporters were dead.
On Thursday, photographs purportedly showing the bodies of the journalists were being shared on social media, although Ecuadorian authorities were yet to confirm their veracity.
Moreno also said he has asked his Colombian counterpart, Juan Manuel Santos, to take decisive action.
“I spoke with the president of Ecuador, and I reiterated to him that he has and will have all my support and the support of our armed forces and the Colombian people,” Santos said on Twitter.
Friends, colleagues and supporters of the abductees have been gathering on the Plaza Grande, near the president’s residence in the capital Quito, for 17 days since the journalists’ disappearance to call for their safe return.