Ecuadorian couple kidnapped by drug traffickers near Colombian border
Only days after a three journalists were murdered by drug traffickers, an Ecuadorian couple has been taken hostage near the Colombian border. It is unclear whether the abduction took place in Colombia or Ecuador, or where the couple is being held.
In a Tuesday afternoon meeting of Ecuadorian and Colombian officials in Quito, President Lenin Moreno said the government may accept offers of law enforcement assistance from the U.S. and European countries.
The Óliver Sinisterra Front, a drug trafficking cartel operating in southwestern Colombia and the border region of Ecuador, delivered a video to the Ecuadorian government showing the two hostages pleading for their lives. The couple has been identified as Vanesa Velasco Pinargote and Oscar Efrén Villacís Gómez of Santo Domingo.
According to family members, the couple had gone to San Lorenzo, just south of the Colombia border, to pay for a motorcycle and had planned to continue across the border into Colombia.
A national police spokesman said the kidnapping could have occurred in either Colombia or Ecuador since Villacís had planned to visit his mother in southern Colombia. He added that the government has warned Ecuadorian travelers to avoid the area north of San Lorenzo due police and military operations against the drug traffickers. “This is a battleground and no civilians should be there.”
According to Interior Minister César Navas, the couple was kidnapped on Wednesday night or Thursday morning, mostly likely en route to or already in Colombia.
The family of the hostages says they had not heard from Velasco and Villacís since last Wednesday and were concerned that they were in danger.
In the video, Villacís addresses President Lenin Moreno directly. “Mr. President, please, I ask you to help us, that what happened to journalists does not happen to us,” he says. “We have nothing to do with this war. Please, Mr. President, we just want to return to our home. Please give them what they want.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Moreno and several of his minister were meeting to discuss the latest kidnapping.