Colombian Rebels Say They Kidnapped Two
Jan. 23, 2003
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Rebels said they kidnapped an American photographer and a British reporter on assignment for the Los Angeles Times, the first foreign journalists to be abducted in recent memory in the country's long war.
Scott Dalton, a native of Conroe, Texas; and Ruth Morris, a British national, have been ``retained'' by the National Liberation Army, or ELN, the guerrilla group said in a statement Thursday on a clandestine rebel radio station.
The kidnappings come just days after three other journalists were reported missing and believed kidnapped by a Colombian paramilitary group in Panama just north of the Colombian border.
Dalton and Morris had been intercepted Tuesday at a rebel roadblock in Arauca state, one of the most violent regions of Colombia. They were led away from their taxi with hoods on their heads, but had been told they were being taken for an encounter with a rebel commander, their driver, Madiel Ariza, told The Associated Press.
Ariza said he was told by the rebels he should leave the rebel encampment the next day, and that the ELN would turn over the journalists to the Red Cross within a day or two. But the ELN statement said the journalists were being held.
``In due time, they will be freed, when the political and military conditions permit,'' the statement said.
The kidnapping comes as the United States is beefing up military aid to the Colombian government, which has been battling the ELN and a larger rebel group for 38 years.
Last week, dozens of U.S. special forces trainers arrived in Arauca to train Colombian troops to battle the guerrillas. The Colombian soldiers will be tasked with protecting an oil pipeline in Arauca that has been sabotaged by the rebels numerous times.
The kidnapping occurred on a road south of the Colombian town of Saravena, 200 miles northeast of Bogota. Several dozen of the U.S. special forces are to be stationed at an army base in Saravena.
The ELN statement said the two journalists had arrived in the guerrilla stronghold without their permission.
``You must take into account that Arauca state has been declared a war zone by the American government and the Colombian state,'' the rebel statement said. ``For that reason, the National Liberation Army is on a war footing and is (acting) in the defense of the dignity of all the people of eastern Colombia.''
The ELN said they were ``prepared to guarantee the lives and security of these journalists,'' and did not issue any demands for their release.
In the Panama kidnappings, John Pelton, Megan Smaker and Mark Wedeven were reportedly seized by the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.
Pelton, a 47-year-old freelance journalist, gained worldwide attention with an interview of American Taliban suspect John Walker Lindh while covering the war in Afghanistan for CNN.
He is also the author of ``The World's Most Dangerous Places,'' a guide book to the world's conflict zones.