Ecuador to launch anti-terrorism operations, minister says
Representational photo: Soldiers guard a gate after several inmates were killed in fights between gangs, in Guayaquil, Ecuador November 2, 2022. REUTERS/Santiago Arcos
QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador's military will launch special-forces operations nationally in a bid to counter groups and individuals who commit terrorism in the country, Defense Minister Luis Lara said on Friday.
Ecuador's security council declared terrorism a threat to the South American country's security late on Thursday, urging the implementation of measures to combat criminal groups.
The security council also requested that President Guillermo Lasso issue a decree authorizing the use of lethal force by security forces to combat organized criminal groups.
Lasso, a conservative former banker, has struggled to stem rising crime and violence on Ecuador's streets and in prisons, which the government attributes to conflicts over territory and power between drug-trafficking gangs.
"In operations against terrorism, we won't hesitate to put into practice all the experience, capacity and professionalism of our soldiers, because it's time to say 'enough' to these criminals and their allies," Lara told journalists.
The government is working to identify criminal groups that are committing terrorism, he added.
Ecuador's police will support the military operations, Lara said. So far, troops have been carrying out operations to seize illegally owned weapons, the minister added.
Earlier this month, armed assailants attacked fishermen in the border city of Esmeraldas, killing nine people. On Thursday, a soldier was killed by unknown individuals who opened fire on the vehicle in which he travelled.
Lasso recently announced reforms to a decree to allow civilians to carry weapons for self-defense.
Ecuador's National Assembly, which is in the middle of holding an impeachment process against Lasso for alleged embezzlement, is debating constitutional reform that would allow the military to patrol streets without a state of emergency being declared.
Lasso denies the embezzlement allegations.
(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia in Quito; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Matthew Lewis)