- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

BOGOTA, Colombia, Jan. 31 (UPI) — A scheduled effort to rescue two kidnapped journalists in Colombia was aborted Friday for security reasons, local news sources reported.

A local humanitarian group was set to negotiate the release of the freelance journalists for the Los Angeles Times when the mission was called off due to unspecified reasons.

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Photographer Scott Dalton, 34, and 35-year-old reporter Ruth Morris are being held in Colombia's northwest state of Arauca by the left-wing rebel group known as the National Liberation Army. The pair was abduct Jan. 21.

The ELN, as they are known locally, said earlier this week they would release the journalists to the humanitarian group, which is composed of Roman Catholic clergy and Colombian officials.

The two were reportedly abducted after encountering a roadblock 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 media 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.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe called for the journalists' immediate release Friday, though he said he did not want their release to come at the expense of the military operation in the area.

Last week, three other journalists who were kidnapped by a right-wing paramilitary force were released.

Veteran reporter Robert Pelton, 47, Mark Wedeven, 22, and Megan Smaker, 22, were set free earlier Friday and were 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 earlier this month.

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