At least six people were killed and six others wounded after gunmen opened fire on a restaurant in the tourist town of Montanita on Ecuador's Pacific coast, prosecutors said Sunday.

From its Twitter account, the entity announced that it is investigating "an armed attack on a food place in Montañita, which caused the death of 6 people and 6 others were injured."

The massacre occurred Saturday night in a busy area of this coastal town. In the premises, the investigators found "percussive pods of firearms, three mobile phones and substances subject to control," the prosecutor's office added, without specifying the age or identity of the victims.

"We heard the noise: boom, boom, pum and people were saying: Run! Run! that it's shooting," a woman who was near the scene at the time of the shooting told AFP and withheld her identity for fear of reprisals.

It is the second massacre to shake Ecuador's Pacific coast this week.

On Thursday, several people entered a funeral home in the neighboring port of Manta and opened fire on those attending a wake in an attack that left four dead and eight wounded, according to prosecutors.

State of emergency

Located between Colombia and Peru, the world's largest producers of cocaine, Ecuador is going through the worst escalation of violence in its recent history.

Crime linked to drug trafficking led to almost double the homicide rate from 2021 to 2022, from 14 to 25 per 100,000 inhabitants.

In response to the wave of violence, conservative President Guillermo Lasso imposed states of emergency on April 1 in the most affected provinces and cities, including Santa Elena (southwest), where Montañita is located.

The measure allows the military to be mobilized to the streets and curfews to be implemented. The government also gave the green light to the population to possess and carry weapons for self-defense.

However, killings in public places continue to terrorize Ecuadorians.

In mid-April, in the province of Esmeraldas (northwest and border with Colombia), about thirty gunmen opened fire in an artisanal fishing port, killing nine people. Two weeks later, motorbikers shot at people watching a football match in a mechanic's shop, killing ten of them and wounding three others, including a five-year-old girl.

Lasso attributes the violence to disputes between criminal gangs, which fight for power and drug trafficking routes across the Pacific, a strategic corridor for shipping drugs to the United States and Europe.

The clashes have also left a trail of death behind bars, where more than 420 inmates have been killed since 2021.

Between January and April, Ecuador has seized 64 tons of drugs. In 2022, authorities seized more than 200 tons, mostly cocaine.

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