Quito, April 14 (IANS) Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno has said that the three journalists abducted last month near the Colombian border are dead.
"It is with great sadness that I announce the expiration of the established 12-hour deadline," he said at a packed press conference in Quito on Friday, Efe news reported.
"We have not received proof of life and we, unfortunately, have information confirming the death of our fellow countrymen."
Reporter Javier Ortega, 32, photographer Paul Rivas, 45 and presenter Efrain Segarra, 60, were kidnapped in the northern border province of Esmeraldas while investigating a recent surge of violence in the area.
Moreno also announced the resumption of military operations along the border with Colombia and offered a reward of $100,000 for information leading to the capture of the leader of the group that claimed responsibility for kidnapping and killing the journalists.
Though the president referred to the suspect only as "narco-terrorist alias Guacho," Colombian daily El Tiempo identified him as Walter Patricio Arizala Vernaza, a 27-year-old Ecuadorian who joined Colombia's FARC rebel group as a teenager.
When the FARC demobilized under a November 2016 peace accord with the Colombian government, Arizala struck out on his own, forming what he called the Oliver Sinisterra Front, named for a guerrilla commander killed in 2015, Ecuador's El Universal newspaper said.
"Despite all our efforts, it was confirmed that these criminals never intended to release (the journalists) alive," Moreno said, announcing a series of security measures, including an increase in military and police control over the area.
He also said that he has contacted the Catholic Church and the International Red Cross, among other organisations, for help to "locate and repatriate" the bodies of the abductees.
"We are in mourning," Moreno said. "But we won't be intimidated. Today, more than ever, I ask the country to come together for peace."