New York, February 3, 2003–Colombian guerrillas freed two foreign journalists on February 1 after holding them hostage for 11 days in eastern Colombia.
The National Liberation Army (ELN) released Ruth Morris, a British reporter raised in California; and Scott Dalton, a photographer from Texas, to an International Red Cross delegate early Saturday in the eastern department of Arauca, near the Venezuelan border. The journalists, both of whom live in Bogotá and have experience working in Colombia’s most violent regions, were in good health and said they were treated decently.
Morris and Dalton were on assignment for the Los Angeles Times when guerrillas from the ELN and the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) stopped them and their driver at a roadblock on January 21. The ELN then detained the three, releasing the driver the following day.
Morris told reporters Saturday that the kidnapping was the result of a spontaneous decision made by one of the ELN rebels. She said rebel commanders might have decided to hold them longer for political gains.
Colombian President Álvaro Uribe V…lez asked for the unconditional release of the journalists and warned the ELN not to seek publicity, in a speech on January 31. After the rebels announced they wouldnít release the hostages until the military halted the operations in the zone where the journalists were being held, Uribe said that the army would not call off its intense anti-rebel campaign in order to make the transfer safer.
Both the ELN and the FARC have been protesting the presence of some 70 U.S. Special Forces troops who arrived in the department last month to train Colombian soldiers to protect an oil pipeline frequently bombed by the guerrillas. Arauca has become Colombiaís most violent region.
Days after Morris and Dalton were abducted, an RCN Televisión crew and a freelance journalist were kidnapped by the FARC in Arauca. They were freed about 36 hours later.
Although Morris and Dalton were the first foreign reporters abducted inside the country, at least three Colombian journalists have been kidnapped and more than 20 have been detained in the last two years by leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary forces. (Freelance journalist Robert Pelton and two companions were detained in Panama by Colombian paramilitaries and released on January 24.)
“These kidnappings are not only a threat to journalists themselves,” said acting director Joel Simon. “They are a threat to all Colombians who are being deprived of vital information about the civil conflict. We call on all sides in the conflict to end this unacceptable practice.”