The three Ecuadorean journalist kidnapped on the Colombian border asked President Lenin Moreno to comply with the abductors' demands so they can safely return to their country, in a recently published video by the Colombian RCN news channel, which prompted the Ecuadorean government to later issue a statement rejecting such attempts of pressure by the armed group and stressing that Moreno's admisntration was doing everything possible to liberate them.
In the video, photographer Paul Rivas Bravo (45), driver Efrain Segarra Abril (60) and writer Juan Javier Ortega Reyes (32) can be seen hugging each other and chained by their necks while facing the camera and addressing their families and the Ecuadorean government.
The video represents the “evidence of survival” of the three kidnapped Ecuadorean journalists, who enlist their captors' demands: an exchange of prisoners between the government and the armed group.
“Mr. Lenin Moreno, our lives are in your hands. The only thing the Oliver Sinisterra Front is asking for is the exchange of the three prisoners detained in Ecuador and the suspension of the agreement between Ecuador and Colombia to fight terrorism,” says journalist Javier Ortega in the video, using words dictated by their captors.
Shortly after the release of the video, Ecuador’s government issued a statement expressing its "deep displeasure and rejection" over the publication of the video.
"We strongly reject the release of the video by the Colombian television channel and reiterate our request to the national media for a responsible and correct use of information, that does not harm the relatives, or affect in any way the investigation process," says the Ecuadorean government in its statement.
The Oliver Sinisterra Front is described by Colombian authorities as a dissident group from the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) following the peace process between FARC and the Colombian government. It's led by Walter Patricio Artizala Vernaza, also known as “el Guacho,” and has no political connection with the political party formed after the demobilization of the FARC.
The group operates at the border between Ecuador and Colombia and is accused by both countries of carrying out attacks against security forces, farmers and infrastructure, and controlling the drug traffic routes in the region.
“To our relatives, we ask you to not dismay and keep on fighting and showing your support through sit-ins and pressuring President Lenin Moreno” for help and support, says Ortega in the video, in reference to the several protests that took place in support of the journalists over the past few days.
The journalists were kidnapped on March 26 in the northern province of Esmeraldas while doing a news coverage for El Comercio newspaper regarding the living conditions of the inhabitants affected by the recent bombings and increasing insecurity in the region.
“I have no words, because this is the second video and my son is chained. It makes me angry. I ask the authorities to start working right now. It's all empty words, they're not enforcing the agreements between both countries,” said Galo Ortega, father of Javier, interviewed by RCN News.
When asked by the interviewer what would they tell their relatives in case they have access to the radio, both Ricardo and Galo sent emotional messages with the hope the journalist could be listening.
“I would tell my son, Juanito, that we love him, to be always optimistic, that we're always praying, that people has joined in support, that his co-workers miss him and are always alert... our hearts are with you,” said the father of Javier Ortega.
Following the release the video and the report Ecuadorean authorities said they are doing everything in their power to secure the safe release of the journalists. "The government is going to do everything possible and impossible so that they return well, so that they return alive, so that they return safe and sound," Juan Sebastián Roldán, private secretary of President Lenín Moreno Telerama.
Journalists and sympathetic Ecuadoreans have organized protests, sit-ins and vigils in support of the kidnapped journalists, demanding the government to reach a deal with the captors so they can return safely home.
Meanwhile Interior Minister Cesar Navas said Thursday that the government was in talks with the kidnappers, saying the journalists were in good conditions but fell short of giving further details.