Videotape from Colombia shows three American captives alive

Friday, August 29, 2003

BOGOTA, Colombia -- A videotape now under study by the FBI shows that three Americans captured by rebels six months ago are alive, officials said Thursday.

The three American contract workers were seized Feb. 13 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, after their small plane crash-landed in southern Colombia.

A senior FBI official said the bureau had a copy of the tape but declined to provide details, saying "it is an ongoing investigation at this point."

"It shows the men alive," said a U.S. official on condition of anonymity. It is the first "proof of life" of the three, the official said.

The three captives -- Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell and Thomas Howes -- worked for Pentagon contractor California Microwave Systems, and reportedly were on an intelligence mission when they fell into the rebels' hands.

A fourth American, Thomas Janis, and a Colombian army sergeant aboard the single-engine Cessna were executed by the rebels.

The U.S. government has given billions of dollars in aid and training to the Colombian military to support its war against two rebel armies and to wipe out cocaine and heroin production. Some of the most hazardous missions are being carried out by U.S. civilian contractors.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip T. Reeker confirmed the existence of the video and said the U.S. government holds "the terrorists responsible for the safety and well-being of the hostages."

"We have been working with the government of Colombia to obtain the safe release of the American hostages without making concessions to the terrorists holding them," Reeker said, without elaborating.

J. Cofer Black, the U.S. State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, visited Colombia Wednesday and said the United States will never negotiate with terrorists.

The Los Angeles Times, which reported the existence of the video of the hostages on Thursday, said it was obtained by an independent television producer.

Jo Rosano, the mother of hostage Marc Gonsalves, said that one month ago an American journalist visited her, took a videotaped message Rosano made for her son and somehow had it delivered to him in captivity.

The journalist, whom Rosano did not want to publicly identify, then returned two weeks ago with a videotaped message from Gonsalves, Rosano said in a telephone interview from her home in Bristol, Conn.

Gonsalves, in his videotaped segment, referred to Rosano's message of support.

"He said, 'Thanks for getting this tape to me. I love you and I am being strong,"' Rosano said. "He said they were not being mistreated, and that his only worry was worrying about his family back home."

Gonsalves looked healthy, though much thinner, and was clean-shaven, she said. He cried at points during his videotaped appearance and was comforted by his fellow American hostages, Rosano said.

Colombian troops have been searching for the American captives in the mountains and jungles of southern Colombia.

The rebels say they consider the men prisoners of war who will be released only as part of a wider exchange between other rebel hostages and jailed guerrillas.

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