Last week's kidnapping of two Western journalists in one of this
country's most dangerous provinces was apparently not an accident of
The abduction came just one week after US Green Berets arrived in
the northeastern department of Arauca to help protect an oil
pipeline partially run by Occidental Petroleum, based in Los
Angeles. The 5,000-member leftist National Liberation Army (ELN),
which claimed responsibility for the kidnappings, said that the
journalists were taken in response to a new US policy that allows US
troops to train their Colombian counterparts to fight guerrillas.
Currently, American troops can only help combat drug traffickers.
Historically, foreign journalists in Colombia were treated as
independent observers of the 39-year civil war that pits the
government against left-wing rebel groups and right-wing
paramilitaries. But with a greater US military presence in Colombia
now, one former diplomat says that journalists may be the latest
target of rebels opposing US support for Bogota.
"[The ELN's] hostility to the US and US companies has always been
there," says Miles Frechette, US ambassador to Colombia from 1994 to
1997. "They've been after the US government for many, many years."
Mr. Frechette speculates that the two journalists simply represented
soft targets that could be used as leverage in discussions with the
Last Thursday, the ELN announced that they had taken Ruth Morris,
a freelance reporter based in Bogota, who has written for The
Christian Science Monitor, Time Magazine, and the Dow Jones News
Service; and Scott Dalton, a freelance photographer who spent nine
years with the Associated Press. Both were on assignment for the Los
Mr. Dalton is a native of Conroe, Texas, while Ms. Morris holds
British citizenship, but was raised in California. Apparently, the
ELN mistook Morris for an American national in its radio broadcast.
In its statement, the ELN suggested that it was acting in self-
"You must take into account that Arauca State has been declared a
war zone by the American government and the Colombian state," said
the guerrilla statement. "For that reason, the National Liberation
Army is on war footing and is [acting] in the defense of the dignity
of all the people of eastern Colombia."
The statement did not contain ransom demands, but instead said
that Morris and Dalton would be freed "when the political and
military conditions permit."
A Sunday editorial in the leading Colombian newspaper, El Tiempo,
suggested that this could be a dangerous new tactic by guerrilla
groups opposed to American intervention in the long Colombian
conflict. "Does it mean that the ELN is getting ready to demand
conditions from the government, using the two foreign journalists as
pawns in some absurd political-military blackmail? If [so], the ELN
would be opening a new step in violating human rights and
inaugurating an attack without precedent against the liberty of the
press," the paper noted. …