BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Authorities in Colombia have identified the remains of two journalists from Ecuador and their driver who were kidnapped while reporting in a dangerous border region, officials said Monday.
The Ministry of Defense announced that three bodies recently discovered had been confirmed as those of the news team that disappeared three months ago.
The employees of the Ecuadorean newspaper El Comercio were investigating a rise in drug-fueled violence along the Colombia-Ecuador border.
Families of the three men issued a joint statement expressing their grief upon learning for certain that the remains belonged to their loved ones.
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“The confirmation comes with deep pain and anger over this unspeakable crime,” the statement said. “Now begins the road on a search for the truth.”
Officials have said an armed dissident group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia kidnapped the trio March 26 and later killed them.
They are journalist Javier Ortega, photographer Paul Rivas and driver Efrain Segarra. The remains will be turned over to Ecuadorean officials, officials said.
Relatives said the remains would be taken to Ecuador’s capital of Quito on Wednesday, where they would make funeral arrangements.
“I pledge the word of the State of Colombia and of course of the Attorney General to the families that this horrendous crime will not go unpunished,” Attorney General Nestor Martinez said in a statement.
Ecuadorean attorney Javier Andrade, who represents the three families, said he took the Colombia’s attorney general at his word in promising an open and swift investigation into the deaths.
In a proof-of-life video after their kidnapping, the three men had identified their captors as members of a dissident arm of the now disbanded Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
However, fears that the three men had been killed surfaced in April when a Colombian TV network said it had received gruesome photos purporting to show their bodies.
Forensic officials were not able immediately to confirm the authenticity of the images, but officials later announced they had concluded the press workers had been killed.
Military operations along Colombia’s border with Ecuador have led to the capture of several individuals belonging to the rebel group but the leader remains at large.
Ecuador and Colombia share a border that extends 400 miles (640 kilometers) from the Pacific to the Amazon, and armed groups of drug traffickers operate with relative freedom in the frontier zones.
Four soldiers have died since January in the region, attacked by FARC rebels who fired bullets and lobbed explosives. Two young merchants were kidnapped in mid-April and their whereabouts remain unknown.