ECUADOR The press in Ecuador has generally been able to carry out its work without restrictions, censorship or reprisals. But recent adverse developments included an attempt in Congress to pass a gag law to thwart publication of documents considered to be confidential; recourse to the courts in a bid to intimidate a newspaper; restriction of access to information, and physical assaults on reporters. The Journalists Licensing Law is still on the books, but it does contain a provision a space for the free practice of journalism. The Right to Reply, contemplated in the Constitution, has been established as a general principle, but no legislation exists for its concrete enforcement. Representatives of Ecuadorian newspapers supported the Declaration of Puebla, under the auspices of UNESCO, which implied a stance in favor of peace. At a later date, in Lima, the newspapers of Ecuador and Peru signed a Letter for Peace and Transparency of Information, with the intent to avoid rabble-rousing or aggressive texts in their news columns. This implies a great advance in favor of objectivity and good will of the press, in face of the differences the two countries are trying to overcome. Principal events: Last weekend, the Newsboys Union, responding to political instigation, refused to see the newspaper HOY of Quito, affecting 30% of its circulation. In the face of this measure, newspaper reporters and administrators went out on the streets themselves to sell the newspaper, and many of them were roughed up by union representatives and others. Finally, the conflict was resolved, but it underscored the latent risk for press freedom and the right to information that exists in many countries in this regard. Military personnel confiscated material from journalists and hindered adequate coverage of an explOSion inside military headquarters in the zone of Balbina, 35 kilometers outside Quito. The explosion killed three people and injured dozens. AFP photographer Martin Berneti had his film confiscated. A Teleamazonas reporter and cameraman also had their film seized as they got off a helicopter from which they had covered the explOSion. An HOY journalist and photographer were kept from boarding a private helicopter in which they intended to cover the news from the air. Former Bucaram ministers Vicente Estrada and Alfredo Adoum increased their verbal attacks on the newspaper HOY, following the fall of the government of which they formed a part. In June of this year, Benjamin Ortiz, editor of the newspaper HOY, was sued for almost three million dollars (10,000 million sucres). A two year jail sentence was sought because of the publication of a report in HOY that described the irregular intervention of Leonidas Plaza Verduga, State Attorney General during the Bucaram regime, in the collecting of victims' insurance in an airplane crash in the Manta port. Examining Magistrate Pedro Gaibor transmitted the civil case as a criminal one, which provoked a public outcry. Afterwards, he changed his mind and the case is still under investigation. The huge sum asked for in the lawsuit is seen as another attempt to use the court system to stifle the press. The newspaper El Universo revealed that members of the Presidential Guard had roughed up photographer Gerardo Mora and confiscated his film August 19 in QUito. Air Force personnel prevented Ivan Naula, a journalist for El Universo de Guayaquil, from covering an airplane accident in the airport of San Crist6bal, in the Galapagos, in August, 1997. The Civil Aviation Authority said that the military men acted in accordance with their responsibilities during a plane crash. At the beginning of September, the National Congress passed a law establishing prison sentences and fines for those publishing communications deemed as private. This bill, which seeks to legislate the inviolability of correspondence, based on the Constitution, was in a reality a gag law against the press, because it converted any journalistic investigation revealing secret documents into a criminal act. The national response by newspapers, media, and professional and journalistic organizations kept the bill from becoming law. The bill was scuttled after the first debate in Congress. The First Civil Judge in Guayaquil annulled a civil lawsuit for debts, saying that the summons had been published in the newspaper HOY of Quito. This newspaper has two editions, one of them in Guayaquil with national circulation. This arbitrary and unwonted decision was interpreted as another act of legal manipulation of the press.