Missing Ecuadoran lawyer found murdered, husband wanted

·2-min read

A young woman lawyer was found murdered in Ecuador 10 days after going missing, the government said Wednesday, in the latest femicide in a country plagued by violence against women.

The body of Maria Belen Bernal, who was 34, was found on a hill some five kilometers (3.1 miles) from the Quito police training school where she went missing on September 11 on a visit to her husband there, Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo said on Twitter.

Her husband, Lieutenant German Caceres, is on the run and is considered the main suspect in the woman's death, according to police.

"I deeply regret her death, a femicide that will not go unpunished," Carrillo said as he announced the discovery of Bernal's body.

President Guillermo Lasso, also on Twitter, vowed that Bernal's "femicide will not go unpunished and all those responsible will be subject to the law."

Bernal disappeared after entering the police college to visit her instructor husband, according to her family.

Two days after she was reported missing, Caceres also disappeared, prompting a manhunt and his dismissal from his job.

- 'We will not rest' -

The head of the training school was also fired, and the government has offered a $20,000 reward for Caceres' capture.

"We will not rest until we bring the murderer to justice," a police statement said.

The crime of femicide is punishable by up to 26 years in prison in Ecuador.

According to the prosecutor's office, at least 573 femicides have been registered in Ecuador's population of 17.7 million since 2014.

In the first months of 2022 there had been 206 murders of women, according to Geraldine Guerra from the Aldea NGO that tracks femicides in the country.

This amounted to about one woman every 28 hours, she said.

Official data shows that 65 out of every 100 Ecuadoran woman aged 15 to 49 have experienced some form of violence.

On Monday, a prosecutor investigating hate crimes and femicide was himself murdered outside the Ecuadoran public prosecutor's office in Guayaquil, authorities said.

Edgar Escobar was shot outside the building where he worked.

Crime and violence have been on the rise in Ecuador as rival drug gangs sow terror, especially in Guayaquil and its prison system.

Ecuador lies between Colombia and Peru, the world's two largest producers of cocaine.

In 2021, the murder rate almost doubled from the previous year to 14 per 100,000 inhabitants.

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