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3 Captives to Return From Colombia

January 25, 2003|From a Times Staff Writer

The three Americans released by their Colombian paramilitary kidnappers were to spend the night in Bogota before flying home today, a government official said Friday.

Robert Young Pelton, 47, a writer from Torrance, and two other people arrived at the U.S. Embassy in the Colombian capital a day after they were released in the town of Unguia, about 200 miles from Bogota, according to Corey Brown, a spokeswoman for Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice).

"There were some nervous moments, but at no time did they threaten us or harm us," Pelton told the international news agency Reuters shortly after being freed by the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces.

Harman, who represents the 36th District, in which Pelton lives, had been working with State Department officials on the case since shortly after he and two 22-year-olds -- firefighter Megan A. Smaker and college student Mark Wedeven -- were reported captured.

Pelton, who has written a book about traveling in dangerous places and was the first U.S. journalist to interview John Walker Lindh, was on assignment for National Geographic's Adventure magazine in Panama when the three were kidnapped Sunday near the border with Colombia. Paramilitary leader Carlos Castano said his troops had taken the Americans to protect them from leftist guerrillas.

Smaker, of the San Francisco Bay Area town of Brentwood, and Wedeven, whose family lives in Bremerton, Wash., are believed to have met Pelton in Panama City, and they decided to travel together near the Colombian border.

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