QUITO – A plane carrying the remains of an Ecuadorian couple who were kidnapped in April in the northwestern province of Esmeraldas and killed on Colombian soil arrived in Quito late Friday morning.
A arc of water was sprayed from two tank trucks over the plane after it landed and was taxiing down the runway as a tribute to Oscar Villacis and Katty Velasco, whose bodies were found in a grave in the southwestern Colombian province of Nariño.
Family members and friends of the couple, members of the media and government officials gathered at Tababela airport to welcome the plane, which had departed from the southwestern Colombia city of Pasto.
On Wednesday, the director of Colombia’s Forensics Institute, Carlos Valdes, confirmed that the bodies were those of the two Ecuadorians.
The remains of Velasco and Villacis were found in a jungle area of the municipality of Tumaco (Nariño), one of the most conflict-ridden areas of Colombia due to the presence of different illegal armed groups and the proliferation of coca plantations.
Ecuador’s government said on April 17 that the couple had been kidnapped in Esmeraldas and also published a smartphone video that showed Velasco and Villacis tied up and guarded by men armed with rifles.
Authorities attribute the double homicide to a former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla, Walter Patricio Arizala Vernaza, known as “Guacho,” who refused to demobilize under a November 2016 peace agreement with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration.
Guacho, the leader of a FARC renegade faction known as the Oliver Sinisterra Front, also is believed to have been responsible for the March 26 kidnapping and subsequent murder of three employees of Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio.
Norma Velasco, Katty’s aunt, said Friday at the airport that her family had suffered greatly and that the government had abandoned them.
“We’ve been alone because the government basically ignored us. They didn’t help us. We’ve been alone, and since we’re poor it’s been even worse,” she told reporters.
Velasco said, however, that she and her family had received constant support from the relatives of the slain El Comercio press team.