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Fears of attempt to steal Ecuadorian election after bid to link leftist frontrunner with Colombian guerillas

FEARS are growing of a bid to steal the Ecuadorian election by blocking the victory of the leftist Andres Arauz, with a dishonest attempt to link him with armed Colombian guerillas.

Colombian Attorney General Francisco Barbosa arrived in Ecuador on Saturday claiming to have “intelligence” proving that the Union for Hope (UNES) electoral coalition, Mr Arauz’s party and the vehicle of supporters of former president Rafael Correa, was funded by the National Liberation Army (ELN).

He alleges that the ELN contributed $80,000 (£57,800) to Mr Arauz’s presidential campaign which won the first round with 32.06 per cent of the votes.

Ecuadorian Attorney General Diana Salazar is collecting information on the alleged financing by the Colombian guerilla group.

She has requested files found on the computer of Andres Vanegas, alias Uriel, an ELN commander killed by Colombian security forces at the end of last year.  

Mr Barbosa’s arrival was confirmed by the Ecuadorian authorities “as part of the bilateral co-operation of the two entities in joint work against criminal organisations that affect the two countries.”

But Mr Arauz has cried foul, insisting it was “fake news” designed to derail his campaign ahead of a second round of polling scheduled for April 11.

Former president Rafael Correa also dismissed the claims as “part of a show” to try and damage the leftist candidate’s campaign.

Last week a video purporting to be footage of ELN guerilla fighters endorsing Mr Arauz ahead of the February 7 turned out to be a fake, given away by the call of a bird in the background.

The clip showed masked men holding rifles in front of the red and black ELN flag, with a caption suggesting they were in the Colombian jungle.

But ornithologist Manuel Sanchez recognised the sound as that of a pale-browed-tinamou, which is not native to that South American country. 

“I recognised the whistle instantly and I knew that the video could not have been filmed in Colombia,” he said.

“Tinamous are quite primitive birds. They live on the forest floor and they don’t sing; they have short, inflected whistles,” Mr Sanchez explained. “It was just luck that this particular species lives in a very small and rare dry forest ecosystem in western Ecuador and north-west Peru.”

The US and the Organisation of American States (OAS) have also been accused of “meddling in Ecuador’s internal affairs” after the National Electoral Council (CNE) decision to carry out a recount in 17 of the country’s 24 provinces.

It will determine whether banker’s candidate Guillermo Lasso or right-wing indigenous candidate Yaku Perez will face Mr Arauz in April’s run-off.

The CNE said a recount was needed “for the benefit of the country’s democracy and with the purpose of guaranteeing the transparency of the electoral process held last February 7.”

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