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Troops Seize Ecuadorean President : Ecuador Leader Held Hostage by Soldiers

January 16, 1987|Associated Press

QUITO, Ecuador — Paratroop commandos kidnaped President Leon Febres Cordero today and demanded the release of a jailed former air force commander who led a military rebellion last year.

The paratroopers surrounded Febres Cordero and Defense Minister Medardo Salazar during a ceremony at an air force base, briefly battled with presidential bodyguards and took the two men prisoner.

Radio reports said up to four people were killed in the fire fight and an unspecified number of presidential guards and three journalists also were captured.

From his captivity inside the Taura air base near the port city of Guayaquil, Febres Cordero spoke with Radio Quito by telephone. He said both he and Salazar were uninjured.

Orders Mobilization Halted

He also said: "I have given orders to the military commands, sent through the defense minister by telephone to the Defense Ministry, that all military mobilization should be halted."

Febres Cordero was allowed the telephone connection with Radio Quito after the leader of the insurrection, Col. Patricio Gonzalez, announced that the sole demand of the president's kidnapers was the release of former air force commander Gen. Frank Vargas Pazos, who staged an unsuccessful rebellion against Febres Cordero last March.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles E. Redman said the United States "deplores" the insurrection and supports democracy in Ecuador.

Staunch Reagan Ally

Febres Cordero, a 55-year-old conservative, is one of the Reagan Administration's staunchest allies in South America.

Radio Quito said Vice President Blanco Penaherrera met in emergency session with the armed forces high command at the Defense Ministry.

Guayaquil, the country's largest city and main port, is 170 miles southwest of Quito, the capital.

President of the Congress Andres Vallejo and Supreme Court President German Carrion issued a statement "in light of the situation" declaring their unconditional support for the rule of law.

Held at Jungle Base

Vargas Pazos is being held at an army base in the jungle east of Quito awaiting trial on charges stemming from his rebellion. Some radio reports said the Epiclachima base where he is being held was surrounded by troops.

The Palace of Government in Quito, the capital, was closed and guards outside were dressed in combat gear. But there was no movement of military vehicles in Quito or any unusual display of military presence.

A crowd gathered in a plaza in front of the palace after the first reports of Febres Cordero's abduction but was dispersed by police. Some shops and businesses in the center of Quito closed early.

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