- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

BOGOTA, Colombia, Jan. 24 (UPI) — Colombia's former attorney general has demanded the unconditional release of two journalists being held by leftist rebels in the country's northeast providence, Colombian newspapers reported Friday.

Jaime Bernal Cuellar called the aggression by rebel groups against any journalist "absurd" and maintained that the freelance Los Angeles Times reporter and photographer being held by the National Liberation Army were "neutral" regarding the rebels' protracted war with the Colombian government and right-wing paramilitary forces.

Photographer Scott Dalton and reporter Ruth Morris — kidnapped Wednesday — are being "retained" in Colombia's Arauca province, the Times reported, citing a radio announcement by the National Liberation Army, or ELN as it is known by its Spanish initials.

U.S. and Colombian officials are reportedly working to locate them.

The two were reportedly abducted after encountering a road block where rebel forces said they would accompany them and their driver, Madiel Ariza, to a distant campsite for an interview with a top ELN commander.

The three were led to the camp and hooded to conceal its location, according to Ariza, who was freed by the rebels carrying a message for the international press accusing the United States of declaring war on Arauca.

ELN members are upset by the recent arrival of 70 U.S. Special Forces in the area along the Venezuelan border. The elite soldiers are set to train local military to protect an oil pipeline that is frequently targeted by the rebels.

In other news Friday, three other journalists, who were kidnapped by a paramilitary force, were released.

Veteran reporter Robert Pelton, 47, Mark Wedeven, 22, and Megan Smaker, 22, were set free earlier in the day and scheduled to be debriefed by Colombian officials.

Pelton has made a career of reporting from dangerous locales and was on assignment for National Geographic Adventure magazine when he and his traveling companions were abducted last week.

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