FARC offshoot blamed for kidnapping journalists in Ecuador

March 28 (UPI) — Assailants kidnapped two journalists and their driver in Ecuador’s northern Esmeraldas province near the border with Columbia, Ecuadorian Interior Minister Cesar Navas said.

A leader for a dissident offshoot of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, or FARC, in Colombia, claimed responsibility for the kidnappings Wednesday.

Navas said the kidnappers took the three into Colombia shortly after the journalists passed a military checkpoint and were warned about dangers in the area.

Colombian military forces said the FARC offshoot, known as Residual Armed Group Oliver Sinisterra, was “without a doubt” behind the kidnappings. But Gen. Alberto Mejia said the military doesn’t have specific information to confirm the journalists were taken to Colombia.

“We are working one hundred percent at their area of influence, we have had combat battles with them, we have captured and demobilized people from their security ring, which informs us more about the operation of that group,” he told Colombian RCN Radio.

Officials are blaming violence in the area on Colombian rebels who have not agreed with FARC’s cease-fire agreement with the Colombian government.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos offered a $54,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Walter Patricio Artízala Vernaza, an Ecuadorian leader of the offshoot group who is known as “Guacho.” He left FARC about a decade ago and describes himself as “an active guerrilla fighter.”