Talks on Monday between Ecuador Minister of Foreign Affairs Ricardo Patiño and his British counterpart William Hague failed to produce a solution over the impasse of the status of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange although the two agreed to continue talks.
Groups of legal experts from the UK and Ecuador will be formed, according to Patiño and Hague, to try to break the deadlock.
Assange has been inside Ecuador’s London embassy for more than year, fearing he will be extradited to the United States if he travels to Sweden to answer allegations of sexual assault against two women.
Patiño told a news conference that the Ecuadorian government was prepared to continue to allow Assange to remain inside the embassy, following the decision last year to grant him political asylum.
He made it clear that Assange would not be smuggled out of the embassy in the trunk of a car, saying he should be allowed to leave and go to Ecuador.
There was now a legal dispute between the UK and Ecuador, which Patiño said he hoped could be resolved by the working party.
A Foreign Office spokesman said the two ministers had agreed to keep channels of communication open, but made no breakthrough, adding: “Ministers agreed that officials should establish a working group to find a diplomatic solution to the issue of Julian Assange, but no substantive progress was made.
“The foreign secretary was clear once again that any resolution would need to be within the laws of the United Kingdom.” Patiño said Assange was prepared to stay inside the embassy for five years, believing it was preferable to facing the U.S. legal system.
Tourists arrested for sea cucumber theft
Seven tourists have been arrested at the Galápagos Islands Baltra Airport, charged with attempting to steal 1,313 sea cucumbers, a protected species. Although security officials did not identify the arrested tourists’ national identity, they are believed to be Chinese.
The cucumbers are a marine animal that have medicinal and cuisine uses in a number of Asian countries, including China. The cucumbers discovered in the tourists’ luggage were dried and packed, and weighed about 20 kilos. Customs officials discovered the sea cucumbers during X-ray scans of the tourists’ luggage.
Although occasional legal fishing of Galapagos sea cucumbers are allowed, its population is strictly monitored and fishing is currently banned.
About 190,000 tourists visit the Galápagos Islands each year.
Photo caption: Julian Assange and Ecuador foreign affairs minister Ricardo Patiño in London earlier this week; Photo credit: Reuters.