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Ecuadoran government and family members of slain El Comercio journalists protest Colombia's communication after remains found



*This story was updated.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos posted on Twitter on June 21 that three bodies were found that could belong to a team of journalists and their driver who worked for Ecuadoran newspaper El Comercio and were reportedly killed in a border region by a dissident group of the FARC.

Photo of the abducted journalists from the Twitter account “Nos Faltan 3”

He sent condolences to the team’s family members and repudiated the crimes.

Yet, they were notified of the discovery via Santos’ Tweet, according to a statement from the families published by Colombia’s Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP, for its acronym in Spanish). The message on social media from Colombia's leader came after months spent trying to repatriate their loved ones remains from Colombia.

Ahead of the relatives’ trip to Cali to identify the bodies, they requested more transparency and open communication from the Colombian government. They spent most of the day at the Institute of Forensic Medicine and were told that analysis would continue until June 26, according to their statement.

Despite this, the Colombian Ministry of Defense posted on Twitter shortly after that the Colombian Police and the Institute of Forensic Medicine said dental analysis provided 99 percent certainty about the identities of the bodies of the Ecuadoran journalists. They also said DNA tests would continue.

“We have insisted since the beginning of this nightmare that it is essential for families to have priority access to information, this has been communicated to the Colombian authorities and this commitment has been ignored without regard to impact that it has on our pain, our families and the right to information that assists Ecuadoran society,” the statement from the families read.

The families added that the recent events “set a precedent of lack of seriousness for the treatment of this case, sow suspicious around the concealment of information to family members,” the statement read. “Under these conditions, confidence in the rest of the actions in the investigation carried out and currently underway by the Colombian State is affected.”

The Ecuadoran National Secretary of Communication reported that the regional director of the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Cali said the information published by the Ministry of Defense was not precise. The forensic dentist had not yet done his analysis when the Tweet was posted, the secretary added.

The Ecuadoran Government sent a letter of protest to the Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs, highlighting the Tweet from the Ministry of Defense, requesting the government do a timely investigation and punish those who “have caused additional psychological stress to the family members.”

The National Secretary of Communication said the family expected exam results on June 25. 

Photo journalist Paúl Rivas, journalist Javier Ortega and driver Efraín Segarra were abducted near a military checkpoint in Mataje, Ecuador on March 26. A statement signed by the Oliver Sinisterra Front, a dissident group of the FARC, announced the men’s deaths on April 11 after failed attempts by both governments to secure the team’s release.

Subsequent attempts to retrieve the bodies and bring them to Ecuador were also unsuccessful. And on June 21, Santos Tweeted that the remains “that could correspond to the bodies of the three journalists abducted and killed by ‘Guacho’ [a leader of the Oliver Sinisterra Front] were found.” According to reporting from El Tiempo, the discovery was made by Army special forces and a special hostage unit in a minefield in a dense jungle.

*President Juan Manuel Santos' may not have been the first notification the family members received. Another report from El Espectador said it came from a media outlet.



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