One of Belgium's top diplomats was physically driving search efforts high in the Peruvian Andes on Monday as pressure intensified in the hunt for clues as to Natacha de Crombrugghe's fate.
Three weeks after the 28-year-old's disappearance, Mark Van de Vreken's presence in Cabanaconde, the remote region where the missing Belgian lawyer was last seen, signalled a significant shift in the political prioritisation given to the mystery.
Federal Belgian Crown Prosecutor's spokesperson Marie Cherchari was quoted as saying the country's 'honourary Belgian consul' in situ had "activated his network" and reached out to fellow European assets in South America, while embassy officials looked after Natacha's parents in Peru.
"Our embassy is in contact with the local authorities, police and mountain rescue services," Cherchari told national news agency Belga according to broadcasters RTL.
Neither Cherchari nor Natacha's father Eric responded immediately to The Brussels Times' approaches for comment at around 11:ßßpm Belgian time.
The Belgian government had earlier requested that Peru allow specialist police investigators to assist Peruvian detectives.
"A formal request went out to the Peruvian investigating authorities this morning through the foreign and interior ministries," the spokesperson said.
An ongoing search involving a group of ten rescue workers who were looking for the 28-year-old woman in Peru's Colca Canyon was reportedly abandoned due to a lack of support from local authorities. Around 30 officers are still active in the search area to find De Crombrugghe, who went missing three weeks ago.
One of the local rescuers explained that a route to the village of San Juan de Chucho would be scoured, but no one would help them get fuel for their van. The mayor of Cabanaconde would reportedly not give them shelter either, which led them to abandon their journey.
In cases like this, a letter rogatory — a formal request to a foreign court for judicial assistance — would be sent, meaning two investigators and a federal magistrate usually attach themselves to the leaders for the local jurisdiction.
Timeline of disappearance
The 28-year-old Natacha, a lawyer from Linkebeek, was travelling alone in Peru and arrived at a hostel in the Peruvian village of Cabanaconde on Sunday evening, 23 January.
The next day she would have left on a trek through the Colca Canyon, a deep and wide gorge. She left behind some of her luggage in the hostel before departing alone, and never returned from the trek.
The Belgian police issued a search notice in Dutch, English and Spanish, calling on people with any information on her whereabouts to contact them.
On Tuesday last week, her rucksack and some clothes were found in her Peruvian hotel, but the Crown Prosecutor’s office in Brussels confirmed Peruvian press reports that the search – using drones, police, mountain guides and volunteers – had produced the items but no conclusive information.