Ecuador president confirms death of kidnapped reporters

Ecuador president confirms death of kidnapped reporters

"Sadly, we have information confirming the murder of our fellow countrymen", he told reporters in Quito, two hours after the ultimatum expired, warning the kidnappers of a forceful response if they didn't comply.

Moreno cut short his visit to Lima, where he had been due to attend a Summit of the Americas starting on Friday.

The sadness has become greater as a result of a communiqué and images spread through social networks, in which the captors report the murder of the journalist Javier Ortega, the photographer Paúl Rivas and the driver Efraín Segarra, from the local newspaper El Comercio, retained while performing their work in Mataje, bordering province of Esmeraldas.

The killings - after what is thought to be the first such abduction of journalists on Ecuadoran soil in three decades - have shaken a country unaccustomed to the cruel violence linked to trafficking that has ravaged Colombia.

"Failing that, we will act with all forcefulness ... not hesitating to punish these violators of every human right", said Moreno, who was close to tears.

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.

Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno says it is highly likely that three press workers kidnapped along the conflictive border were killed and is giving their captors 12 hours to demonstrate they remain alive before he orders a major military operation against them.

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Without specifying exactly what action would be launched once the deadline passed, Moreno said he had spoken to Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos and asked him to deal forcefully with the group, which funds itself via the illegal cocaine trade. A proof-of-life photograph released immediately after their kidnapping showed them chained and padlocked by the neck.

One of the hostages appealed to Moreno help secure their release.

According to the Ecuadoran military, the dissident group believed to be behind the abduction is led by a rebel called "Guacho", an Ecuadoran in his 30s who had served as a rebel in the FARC for 15 years, specializing in explosives, drug smuggling and financing.

The bloodshed highlights problems ahead for governments in both countries, which in 2016 celebrated the signing of peace accords between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, and the Colombian government.

It also said the governments should have sought the mediation of the Roman Catholic Church and other potential humanitarian mediators.

The region has always been suffering from Colombian rebel groups activities.

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