Ecuador's foreign minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa speaks during a press conference in Quito, Ecuador, Jan. 9, 2018.
Ecuador's foreign minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa speaks during a press conference in Quito, Ecuador, Jan. 9, 2018.

Ecuador weighs mediation to resolve Assange issue


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Ecuador's foreign minister said Tuesday that Quito may pursue mediation to resolve the standoff between the South American nation and Britain over the fate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has spent more than five years holed up at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

"We have an enormous interest in reaching a definitive solution to the Assange case and to make that happen we are in permanent dialogue with the government of the United Kingdom," Maria Fernanda Espinosa told a press conference.

"We are also considering and exploring the possibility of mediation," she said, adding that the role of mediator could be played by an individual or a third-country government.

The Australian citizen sought refuge at the Ecuadorian mission in June 2012 after losing a battle in the British courts to avoid extradition to Sweden, where prosecutors had been seeking to question him about rape allegations dating back to 2010.

Assange, who denies all the accusations, said that once he was in Swedish custody the United States would pressure Stockholm into handing him over for prosecution based on WikiLeaks' publication of classified documents.

Ecuador granted Assange's application for political asylum, but the UK government continues to deny him safe passage to the government, even after Swedish prosecutors' announcement last May that they were closing the original sexual assault investigation.

Asked by a reporter about Assange's health, Espinosa replied: "How would you feel after 5 1/2 years of being in a small office, without being able to enjoy sunlight and without breathing fresh air?"

"Even people in detention centers can go out to the yard, play sports," she said.

The foreign minister said that Ecuador remains committed to ensuing Assange's safety.

"We are a country that defends human rights. A country, moreover, that respects international law," she said.

Describing Assange's situation as unsustainable, she said that Ecuador will continue to approach the UK in a "very, very respectful way" to find a solution.

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