Journalist and two companions are freed

Bogotá, Colombia, January 24, 2003—A free-lance journalist with U.S. and Canadian citizenship and his two traveling companions have been freed in Colombia after allegedly being abducted by right-wing paramilitary fighters.

Robert Pelton, Megan Smaker, and Mark Wedeven were turned over to a priest and human rights officials on the evening of January 23 in Colombia’s remote Chocó Department just south of the Panamanian border, a police official from neighboring Antioquia Department told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The police official said on Friday that the three were in good health and were resting in the town of Unguía. It wasn’t clear where they would be taken next.

Pelton, a 47-year-old free-lance journalist from California, was researching a story for New York­based National Geographic Adventure magazine when the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) abducted him and the other two sometime on or shortly after January 18.

Pelton is the author of The World’s Most Dangerous Places travel book and gained the first interview of American Taliban suspect John Walker Lindh in Afghanistan for CNN.

The lack of security forces in the region where the three were abducted provides a haven for both Colombian rebels and rival paramilitary fighters, who are said to use the area to smuggle drugs and guns.

Meanwhile, leftist rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) Leftist continue to detain two journalists— Scott Dalton, a photographer from Texas, and reporter Ruth Morris, a British national—who were on assignment for The Los Angeles Times in the lawless Arauca Department, in eastern Colombia.

The armed groups are fighting in a civil conflict that has been going on for 40 years.