QUITO (Reuters) – Two Ecuadorean journalists and their driver, who were kidnapped last month by Colombian insurgents, have been killed, Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said on Friday.
“Regrettably, we have information that confirms the murder of our compatriots,” he said on state TV. “It seems these criminals never planned to deliver them back safely.”
On Thursday, Moreno gave the group, former fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who refused to demobilize under last year’s peace deal with Colombia, 12 hours to prove the hostages were alive or face a military operation.
Moreno returned to Ecuador that day from a regional summit in Peru following media reports that said El Comercio reporter Javier Ortega, photographer Paul Rivas and driver Efrain Segarra had been killed.
On Wednesday, a statement apparently issued by the Oliver Sinisterra front – a faction of the former FARC guerrillas that refused to adhere to a 2016 peace agreement – reported the Ecuadoreans had died in a failed rescue operation.
Colombia denied any rescue attempt.
The journalists and their driver were on assignment for the Quito-based El Comercio newspaper on the border between Ecuador and Colombia when they were seized.
A proof-of-life photograph released shortly after their kidnapping showed them chained and padlocked by their necks.
More than a thousand FARC fighters refused to demobilize under the accord with Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos and continued drug trafficking across the nation.
Those operating in Colombia’s southern jungles have attacked Ecuadorean security forces along the border.
The FARC, which battled for more than a half century, attacked military targets and civilian towns, but generally allowed journalists to work freely, unless they went against the rebels’ interests.
(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Additional reporting by Silene Ramirez in Santiago; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Dan Grebler and Bernadette Baum)