Recent incidents highlight growing insecurity along the Ecuador – Colombia border
The region along the Ecuador – Colombia border is currently affected by growing insecurity as a result of operations by armed groups and criminal organisations, including FARC dissidents.
Over the past three months an increased level of militant and criminal activity in Ecuador’s Esmeraldas province prompted politicians to take drastic measures. On 27 January Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno declared a state of emergency in San Lorenzo and Eloy Alfaro cantons in Esmeraldas province in order to “strengthen the security of the citizens and the border”. Following a new wave of incidents including the high-profile abduction of three Ecuadorian nationals near the northern border, this measure was extended until 28 April.
On 26 March two journalists, Paul Rivas Bravo and Juan Javier Ortega Reyes, and their driver Efrain Segarra Abril, were kidnapped near Mataje, Esmeraldas province, whilst on an assignment for Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio. Doubts over the identity of the perpetrators were dispelled when the Colombian RCN news channel publicised a 22-second proof of life video on 3 April. In the video, one of the victims said a FARC dissident group – known as Frente Olive Sinisterra – demanded the release of three unidentified combatants and an end to the anti-drug agreement between Ecuador and Colombia in exchange for the victims’ freedom.
The victim added that the captors asked for “nothing else”, suggesting the dissident group did not seek financial gain. Following the release of the video, the Ecuadorian government issued a statement refusing to comply with the kidnappers’ demands. In response, police and military forces intensified their efforts to secure the release of the victims and on 6 April police officials confirmed a total of 23 suspected members of Frente Olive Sinisterra had been arrested.
On 11 April an unverified statement allegedly published by Frente Olive Sinisterra on social media claimed all three victims had been assassinated amid a military operation taking place near the kidnappers’ hideout. On 13 April President Moreno said it was highly likely that the three victims were killed after a Colombian TV network reportedly received photos allegedly showing the bodies of the three men. In a sign of escalation, President Moreno threatened to launch a major military operation against the suspected kidnappers if the death of the press workers is confirmed.
While FARC dissidents have continued to conduct kidnappings in Colombia despite the signing of a peace agreement with the Colombian government, this incident marks the first instance in which Ecuadorian nationals have been targeted. Given the nature of the kidnappers’ alleged political demand and the intensifying government response, further kidnappings along the border region cannot be discounted.
INCREASED DISSIDENT ACTIVITY IN ESMERALDAS PROVINCE
The significance of the kidnapping is further highlighted by the fact that it occurred at a time of deteriorating security in the region along the Ecuador – Colombia border. In the past three months a number of attacks targeted security and military forces in Esmeraldas province – notably in San Lorenzo, Eloy Alfaro and Mataje.
The most violent incident occurred on 27 January, when a bomb targeted a police station in San Lorenzo, injuring 30 people. Although Ecuadorian authorities have been unable to identify the perpetrators of each incident, they believe that FARC dissidents are responsible for the increase in violence witnessed in Esmeraldas province. Police officials claim that Frente Olive Sinisterra carried out the recent IED attacks in the province.
FARC dissidents have been known to operate in Ecuador since the start of the peace process between the rebel group and the Colombian government in 2016.
The nature and frequency of recent attacks in the border region suggest that armed dissident militants and criminal groups are determined to expand their areas of operation and put pressure on national and local authorities on both sides of the border. Dissident FARC guerrillas are likely emboldened by the slow and challenging implementation of the peace process and political paralysis ahead of the Colombian presidential election in May.
Foreign nationals are advised to avoid all travel along the Ecuador – Colombia border in the short term, as further violent incidents and kidnappings remain likely in the short term.
TRAVEL RISK MANAGEMENT
Business travel is an extension of the workplace: if your people travel extensively, they will be exposed to a range of safety and security risks. NYA supports clients by providing bespoke travel risk management programmes safeguarding employees’ security and welfare at all times.
NYA’s three-pillar approach evidences your commitment to providing a safe and secure working environment for employees at all times, anywhere in the world. Ensuring the support provided is in line with Best Practice industry standards, the three pillars include the application of appropriate pre-travel preparation, monitoring and protection during travel, and availability of an appropriate response mechanism to respond to incidents.
Contact us if you are due to travel to the region and would like further advice on how we can support your organisation.