Ecuador doing 'everything possible' to free reporters

Quito (AFP) –


Ecuador's presidency said Tuesday it will do "everything possible" to gain the release of a press team abducted a week ago on the troubled border with Colombia.

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.

Reporter Javier Ortega, 32, photographer Paul Rivas, 45, and their driver Efrain Segarra, 60, wear chains with locks around their necks in the 23-second video.

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

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

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.

"For the three families, it was a terrible shock, a very strong emotional shock, to see where our loved ones are," said Rivas's companion Yadira Aguagallo.

Interior Minister Cesar Navas said he was aware of the kidnappers' demands and that the government was working for their release.

"To know that they are stable in the difficult conditions they are experiencing consoles us," he said.

Dozens of journalists, media and press organizations from Ecuador and Colombia signed a letter to Moreno and his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos, calling on both governments to ensure their release.

"It has been very difficult for those of us who have been close to this very painful news," said Moreno's spokesman Juan Sebastian Roldan.

He described the kidnapping, the first to hit the Ecuadoran press in three decades, as an "extremely delicate issue."

The spokesman 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.