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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Governments confirm that bodies found in Colombian jungle belong to abducted Ecuadoran journalists



The Colombian and Ecuadoran governments confirmed that three bodies found in Tumaco, Colombia belong to the El Comercio reporting team that was abducted on March 26 while reporting in the border region.

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

Colombian Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez announced the results outside the Institute for Forensic Medicine in Cali, according to El Comercio. He said the relatives of the journalists had been informed of the findings.

The Attorney General’s Office said in a release that the Institute identified the remains using analysis of garments, dental records and DNA comparisons with relatives.

Martínez said those responsible would be identified and the crime would not remain unpunished.

The Ecuadoran Air Force will return the bodies to Ecuador on June 27, according to what José Valencia, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility of Ecuador, said in a press conference.

We accept this confirmation with deep pain and consternation for this repugnant crime and for that reason we insist on our request of not forgetting, rejecting impunity, rejecting repetition,” the family members of the team said in a statement posted to Twitter. “This abduction and murder cannot be part of a list of normality, it cannot be naturalized, and responsibility at all levels must be established.”

Photojournalist Paúl Rivas, journalist Javier Ortega and driver Efraín Segarra were abducted near a military checkpoint in Mataje, Ecuador close to the Colombian border on March 26.

On April 11, a statement allegedly signed by the Oliver Sinisterra Front, a dissident group of the FARC, announced their deaths and blamed the governments of Ecuador and Colombia.

Family members worked for months to retrieve the journalists’ bodies, but were unable to secure them.

The discovery of three bodies in Tumaco, Colombia that could belong to the journalists was reported on June 21 and confirmed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos via Twitter.

El Tiempo reported that specialized Armed Forces units found the bodies in pits in a minefield in dense jungle land. They also cited sources as saying the bodies had garments previously worn by the journalists in a proof of life video.

In recent days, after the announcement by President Santos, relatives of the journalists criticized the Colombian government’s handling of information regarding the discovery of the bodies.

They highlighted the president’s Tweet and a Tweet from the Ministry of Defense that said dental analysis provided 99 percent certainty about the identities of the bodies of the journalists. Both Tweets, they said, served as their notification of the findings.

The regional director of the Institute later said the information published by the Ministry of Defense was not precise and he had to perform additional analysis, as reported by the National Secretary of Communication of Ecuador.

“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,” read a statement from the families published on June 22.

The Ecuadoran Government also sent a letter of protest to the Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs after the Tweet from the Ministry of Defense.

After the official announcement of the forensic analysis on June 25, the family members’ statement said they were assured by Martínez that they would be directly informed about advances in the investigations.

The Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) previously set up a Special Monitoring Team to investigate the abduction of the journalists. It planned to begin investigations in Colombia in July.



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