June 25, 2018 / 9:45 PM / in 5 months

Remains found of Ecuadorean journalists killed by Colombian rebels

BOGOTA (Reuters) - The bodies of two Ecuadorean journalists and their driver, killed two months ago while being held captive by Colombian insurgents, have been found and identified, Colombia’s attorney general said on Monday.

El Comercio reporter Javier Ortega, photographer Paul Rivas and driver Efrain Segarra were killed in April after being kidnapped by the Oliver Sinisterra front - a faction of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas that refused to adhere to a 2016 peace agreement with the government.

A captured member of the rebel group provided the location - in the inhospitable jungles area of southern Tumaco, police sources said, and a fourth body found with the media team is thought to be a dissident.

“Relatives have been informed that the bodies belong to the three Ecuadorian journalists,” Martinez told reporters in the city of Cali.

The three men disappeared on March 26 while reporting in the border area of the two Andean countries, a notorious region for drug traffickers, crime gangs and rebels. A proof-of-life photograph released shortly after their kidnapping showed them chained and padlocked by their necks.

Both Ecuador and Colombia offered rewards of $100,000 for information leading to the capture of alleged faction leader Walter Artizala, known by his alias “Guacho,” and stepped up military activity in the area.

The dissidents alleged in a statement after the journalists’ death that they were killed during a rescue attempt, but Colombia denied such an attempt was made.

Some 1,200 FARC fighters refused to demobilize under the peace deal and have continued with drug trafficking activities. Those operating in Colombia’s southern jungles have repeatedly attacked Ecuadorean security forces along the border.

Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno pulled his country’s support for peace talks between Colombia and remaining rebel group the National Liberation Army (ELN) shortly after the journalists’ deaths, saying Ecuador could not back the discussions while the guerrillas continue to wage attacks.

The talks were relocated to Cuba.

Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Helen Murphy and Marguerita Choy

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