Kidnapped British, Aussie tourists rescued in Ecuador

Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino talks to press after a meeting with British Foreign Minister William Hague in New York September 27. AFP PHOTO/ TIMOTHY A. CLARY

QUITO: Ecuadoran authorities say they have rescued two women tourists, one from Britain and another from Australia, who were kidnapped a day earlier near the Colombian border.

Police and armed forces staff "located and rescued the two girls, Australian and English, kidnapped in Cuyabeno," Interior Minister Jose Serrano said Saturday on Twitter.

The Australian Embassy in the Chilean capital Santiago, which is responsible for Ecuador, confirmed the rescue.

The mission "has confirmed that an Australian woman and a British woman who were kidnapped in Ecuador have been released and are currently in the care of Ecuadorian authorities," a foreign office spokeswoman told AFP.

Kidnappings are common among Colombian gangs.

The women, who were not immediately identified, were abducted while visiting the Cuyabeno nature reserve in the Tarapoa region, in Sucumbios province, officials said.

They were traveling in a canoe as part of a group of seven tourists -- five foreigners and two Ecuadorans -- and two local Ecuadorans working as guides.

Australia's foreign ministry said its embassy in Chile was "working urgently with Canadian and British authorities in Ecuador to obtain more information," and officials were also in contact with the women's family.

"Our travel advice for Ecuador recommends that Australians do not travel to the border area of Sucumbios in northeastern Ecuador bordering Colombia and Peru as there is a very high threat of violent criminal activity in this area," a foreign ministry spokeswoman told AFP.

Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr said the government's travel warnings "make the point this is not safe territory -- it is underpopulated, it is remote."

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was working with the Ecuadoran authorities over the incident.

Its latest travel advisory to Ecuador warned against traveling near the Colombian border, especially in Sucumbios province where the pair were abducted.

"Avoid all travel to the border areas in the northern province of Sucumbios," says the advisory.

"Colombian guerrilla groups and criminal gangs are known to have influence in all areas bordering Colombia. Foreigners, including oil workers, are potential targets in these areas and the crime rate is high."

A British oil worker and his driver were kidnapped and killed in July 2002, according to the Foreign Office, which urged British nationals to avoid crossing the border from or to Colombia in Sucumbios.

Ecuador's environment ministry had reported the assault Friday, but said nothing of a kidnapping.

It quoted local people as saying that three members of a Colombian gang of ex-paramilitary fighters known as the Black Eagles were behind the abduction.

The governments of Colombia and Ecuador coordinated their efforts in bringing about the tourists' rescue, the Ecuadoran interior ministry acknowledged.

Ecuador broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia following a March 2008 Colombian military attack against a Colombian leftist guerrilla camp on Ecuadoran territory near the Colombian border.

Relations were restored later that year following mediation by former US President Jimmy Carter.





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