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American Workers Abducted in Colombia Shown Alive on Tape

The video appears to be relatively recent. Rebels kidnapped the three men in February.

August 28, 2003|T. Christian Miller | Times Staff Writer

BOGOTA, Colombia — An independent television producer has obtained a videotape of three American contract workers kidnapped by Colombian rebels after their plane crashed this year, U.S. officials and a family member said Wednesday.

The tape, which was apparently made within the last two months, is the first proof of the captives' being alive that the rebels have produced since the Cessna 208 crashed in February while surveying cocaine crops for the U.S. Defense Department.

"I am hopeful. At least I know now that he's alive," Jo Rosano, 55, mother of Marc Gonsalves, said from Bristol, Conn. Her son is a former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer and an employee of California Microwave Systems, a Northrop Grumman subsidiary based in Maryland that specializes in aerial surveillance.

U.S. officials said they were closely analyzing the tape to see if the contractors, all former military officials, had attempted to send secret signals through hand or eye movements.

They acknowledged that the effort to save the men has slowed considerably, with 10 to 18 U.S. intelligence and military officials aiding the Colombians in the search, compared with nearly 50 during the first weeks after the crash.

Pictures of the three kidnapped men sit prominently inside the main entrance to the U.S. Embassy, along with a sign that says: "We will never forget."

Gonsalves and four other men were flying over rough terrain in southern Colombia when their plane apparently developed engine trouble and crash-landed near a meeting of rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Rebels shot and killed two of the men, decorated U.S. military veteran Thomas John Janis, 56, and Colombian intelligence Sgt. Luis Alcides Cruz. Gonsalves and the two other crewmen, Keith Stansell and Tom Howes, were taken captive, according to witnesses.

A second California Microwave plane went down a month later during a search for the crew of the first plane, killing all three people on board.

The FARC announced that it was holding the three men as "prisoners of war" and that the hostages would be released only as part of a prisoner exchange for guerrillas.

On the tape, the three men each send brief personal messages to their families, Rosano said. She said her son told his three children and wife that his biggest stress was worrying about them.

Gonsalves broke down several times during the tape and was comforted by his fellow captives, Rosano said.

"As a mother, seeing him cry, that tore my heart apart," Rosano said.

U.S. officials said the men appeared to be freshly groomed and had close-cut beards and hair. They were speaking from what appeared to be a hut.

The origin of the tape is unclear. Rosano said the television producer, whom she declined to identify, had approached her about 1 1/2 months ago and offered to tape a message from her to be delivered to her son.

The producer then went to Colombia and apparently was able to contact the rebels, who delivered the tape of the men back to the producer.

U.S. officials, who also declined to identify the producer, said the producer showed the tape to family members, one of whom contacted the FBI. The producer at first refused to let the FBI have access to the tape but relented after being threatened with arrest for obstruction of justice, U.S. officials said.

The producer has told U.S. officials of plans to air a documentary in the U.S. on the kidnapping next month.

In another sign of the danger that exists for contractors, Colombian army units Wednesday rescued an American after his drug-spraying plane was shot down, allegedly by FARC guerrillas.

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