President Lenin Moreno returned to Quito Thursday night following reports that three Ecuadorian journalists kidnapped by a Colombian drug gang have been murdered.
Shortly after his return from Lima where he had planned to attend the Summit of the Americas, Moreno gave the kidnappers 12 hours to prove that two reporters and a driver for Quito newspaper El Comercio are still alive. “If the drug traffickers do not provide this, we will go after them with full force and without hesitation,” he said during a Thursday night press conference at the Quito airport.
Moreno’s abrupt cancellation of his summit trip followed an afternoon report by Colombian television station RCN that the journalists have been murdered. The television station said it received photographs reportedly showing the dead hostages. RCN gave the information to an international press organization that forwarded it to Ecuadorian officials.
Initially, police reported that they could not confirm that the photos show the hostages but later said that clothing in the images matched that worn by the journalists at the time of their kidnapping.
Reporter Javier Ortega, photographer Paúl Rivas and driver Efraín Segarra, were kidnapped March 26 near the Esmeraldas Province town of Mataje, a few hundred meters of the Colombian border.
In the days following the abductions, the kidnappers demanded that Ecuador release three Colombians being held on drug trafficking charges and end a law enforcement agreement with Colombia.
It is unclear whether the hostages were being held in Colombia or Ecuador.