Britain is shunning us, say Ecuadorians as tension continues over Assange


Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Ecuadorian government has expressed “surprise and disappointment” that Britain has made no attempt to contact them since Julian Assange was granted asylum one week ago.

Officials at the embassy where the 41-year-old is holed up said they expected the Foreign Office to seek talks after William Hague called for calm after a dramatic spike in tensions between London and Quito.

Instead the British government has ignored them for a week with no official or back-channel communications as the tense stand-off continues with little sign of resolution. The stark admission is an indication of how low relations have sunk between the two countries since Mr Assange walked into Ecuador's embassy two months ago and requested asylum.

The WikiLeaks founder is wanted by the Swedish authorities to face a series of sexual assault charges but he insists he fled to the embassy to avoid the potential threat of extradition to the United States over the work his website has done.

Quito granted his request last week amid a dramatic escalation in tensions with Britain threatening to use an obscure piece of legislation to strip the embassy of its diplomatic protection. Ecuador saw the threat as a direct threat to their sovereignty and promptly granted Mr Assange permanent sanctuary. They later allowed the WikiLeaks founder to give a politically charged speech from the balcony of the first floor embassy - a decision which further angered British officials further.

Speaking to reporters today, Ecuadorian officials said they were disappointed at Britain's stance. But they also warned that any request by London to hold talks on Mr Assange should be accompanied by written confirmation that the threat against their embassy had been withdrawn.

Asked whether such a request was a direct condition of future talks one official replied: “It's not a condition but it's the best thing to do. It would be an indication of good faith. Before you start with anyone to talk about anything no threats should be on the table. And as far as we know the threat has not been withdrawn.”

On the day Mr Assange was granted asylum, the foreign secretary said Britain would make no attempt to enter the Ecuadorian embassy but officials say they want to see such assurances in writing.

The impasse comes as Latin American nations gather in Washington tomorrow [FRI] to vote on a resolution which could condemn Britain's role. Quito has been lobbying its allies to vote for the resolution and act as one against Britain.

As one senior Ecaudorian official put it: “What happens to one of us happens to all of us”. Britain, meanwhile, has been secretly trying to persuade a number of nations to vote against or abstain.

During the briefing officials gave further details of Mr Assange's flight to the embassy.  Employees were so surprised at his request that an official had to be dispatched to the ambassador's house to pick up an air mattress for him to sleep on that night.

Officials remained upbeat that a compromise agreement could be reached. But  Ecuador nonetheless remains adamant that both Britain and Sweden have to guarantee that Mr Assange would not be extradited to a third country should he go to face the sexual assault charges in Stockholm.

One official said they were prepared to play a long game with Britain. “He can stay here for eight years... two centuries,” the official said. “However long he wants.”

Asked whether they might make any attempt to help Mr Assange escape Britain should the impasse continue the official replied: "I can open the door for him if he wants me to but I can't help him escape."

A Foreign Office spokesman said Britain "remained committed to a diplomatic solution" over Mr Assange adding that a formal communication would be sent to the embassy tomorrow.

However some have questioned Ecuador’s suggestion that they are being ignored by Britain. As one diplomatic source put it: "There’s nothing stopping them picking up the phone and calling us."