Ecuador doing ‘everything possible’ to free reporters

Galo Ortega (C) holds a picture of his son, journalist Javier Ortega -- who is being held hostage by rogue Colombian FARC guerrillas along with two colleagues -- at a demonstration in Ecuador's capital Quito on April 1

Quito (AFP) – Ecuador’s government will do “everything possible” to gain the release of a press team abducted a week ago on the troubled border with Colombia, the presidency said Tuesday.

“The government will do everything possible and impossible so that they return safe and sound,” a spokesman for President Lenin Moreno told Telerama TV.

The comments were the first from the government since the three-man team appeared in a video and asked Quito to help secure their release.

The footage aired on Colombia’s RCN television Tuesday marked the first proof that the team from the influential Ecuadoran newspaper El Comercio is alive after being kidnapped by rogue Colombian FARC guerrillas.

The 23 second video shows reporter Javier Ortega, 32, photographer Paul Rivas, 45, and their driver Efrain Segarra, 60, wearing chains with locks at the neck.

One of the hostages asks Moreno to reach an agreement for their release.

In the video, the unidentified captors seek an exchange in which the hostages would go home safely, and Ecuador would stop helping Colombia fight the insurgents.

Moreno’s spokesman, Juan Sebastian Roldan, said “it has been very difficult for those of us who have been close to this very painful news.” 

He described the kidnapping, the first to hit the Ecuadoran press in three decades, is an “extremely delicate issue.”

He said Moreno, who has not spoken publicly about the case, “has his attention all the time on what happens with these three compatriots.”

“This is a problem serious enough to be treated with great care, not only for the three people who are there but also for the relatives,” he said.

The journalists were on assignment in the border area where Ecuadoran security forces have come under a series of deadly attacks blamed on rogue FARC elements involved in drug trafficking.

A 2016 pact between the Colombian government and the FARC ended half a century of armed conflict, saw 7,000 rebels disarmed, and the ex-rebels transform into a political party.

However some 1,100 guerrillas broke away from the agreement, primarily to pursue drug trafficking and illegal mining, according to the Colombian government and independent research centers.

The FARC has long been active in the remote Ecuador-Colombia border region.