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Ecuador News

Government confirms hostage murders; Moreno orders four-day mourning period

President Lenin Moreno has confirmed that two Ecuadorian journalists and their driver have been murdered by their kidnappers in southern Colombia. He made the announcement early Friday afternoon following confirmation of photographic evidence by the national police.

Kidnap victims as shown in a March 30 video.

Reporter Javier Ortega, photographer Paúl Rivas and driver Efraín Segarra of the Quito newspaper El Comercio were abducted March 26 in Ecuador, near the Colombian border. The team was covering recent attacks on Ecuadorian soldiers by suspected drug traffickers in the area.

The governor of Nariño Province, Colombia, Camilo RomeroIt, said Friday afternoon that victims were held and murdered in Colombia. Previously, Colombian officials, including President Juan Santos, had said that all kidnapping activity had taken place in Ecuador.

On Friday, Moreno announced a four-day period of mourning to honor the victims. Many public events throughout the country, including some scheduled for Cuenca’s foundation holidays, have been cancelled.

The drug cartel known as the Óliver Sinisterra Front has taken credit for the kidnapping and murders.

Photographs of the victims were delivered to a Colombian television station Thursday. The station turned the evidence over to Fundamedios, an Ecuadorian journalists union which, in turn, delivered it to police.

Walter Patricio Artízala Vernaza is known is southern Colombia as El Guacho.

Moreno announced that the government is offering a $100,000 reward for the capture, dead or alive, of Sinisterra Front leader Walter Arizala Vernaza, who goes by the name of Guacho. Combined with a reward offered by the Colombian government, the total bounty for the 28-year-old Arizala is $230,000. Born in Ecuador, Arizala was a former FARC rebel commander in the civil war with the Colombian government. He refused to sign the 2017 peace treaty that was mediated by Ecuador. He and his renegade troops, numbering over 200, reportedly control most of the coca growing and production trade in a large area of southwestern Colombia, bordering Ecuador.

Moreno said Ecuador’s response to the murders would be “swift and merciless.”

On Friday afternoon, members of the Ecuadorian military command met in Quito with their Colombian counterparts to plan strategy. Both sides said that security operations would be intensified and that additional troops would be assigned to the contested area.