Ecuador indigenous group frees hostages after return of corpse amid pandemic

QUITO (Reuters) - An indigenous group in the Ecuadorean Amazon has released six hostages after authorities returned the body of a leader who according to the government died of COVID-19, police said late on Saturday.

Members of the Shuar Kumay community last week took two police officers, two soldiers, one public official and one civilian hostage to demand the right to give their leader, Alberto Mashutak, a traditional burial.

The group insisted that Mashutak, who died in a hospital in late May, did not die of the novel coronavirus.

“The body of the indigenous leader was delivered to his community,” the police said in a statement, adding that authorities took special health protocols during the exhumation process to prevent possible COVID-19 spread.

The freed hostages will undergo medical examinations, the statement added.

Ecuador suffered a brutal outbreak of coronavirus in March and April that left bodies accumulating in the streets of its biggest city, Guayaquil. But since then, infection and death rates have declined amid social distancing measures.

Amazonian indigenous groups on Wednesday reported having 1,215 coronavirus cases and 37 deaths, according to data published by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Reporting by Jose Llangari in Quito, Writing by Alexandra Valencia and Luc Cohen; Editing by Lisa Shumaker