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Engineers Kidnapped in Colombia Tell of Their Release

September 17, 1996 GMT

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) _ Three engineers held captive by Colombian rebels for seven months received coded radio messages from their employer saying help was on the way, one of the men said Tuesday.

But it remained unclear whether that help included paying ransom to the rebels.

Ulrik Schultz of Denmark, Philip Halden of Britain and Colombian Diego Blandon were set free Sunday after being held seven months and 11 days in the jungle by the leftist National Liberation Army.

Torben Seeman Hansen, a spokesman for Copenhagen-based FLS Industries, refused to say at a news conference whether the company paid ransom for its employees.

However, the leader of the Colombian government’s anti-kidnapping unit told the Danish television channel DR1 that a ransom had been paid.

``It happened outside Colombia,″ said Alberto Villamizar, refusing to identify any country. He added the governments of Colombia, Denmark, Britain and Germany were not involved and said he did not know the size of the payment.

A visibly tired, red-eyed Schultz told reporters he and Blandon were held together and moved seven times. Schultz added they were treated well by the guerrillas, who make money from extortion, kidnapping and drug trafficking.

Halden, held in a different place, returned home Sunday and was reported in good condition, Seeman Hansen said.

Schultz was allowed to get a shortwave receiver from Denmark. He said he didn’t realize immediately that his employers were sending him a coded message on a shortwave channel.

``The aunt in Valby sends the warmest regards to friends and family in South America and hopes to see them again soon,″ the March 5 message said. It was repeated several times and always was followed by the Beatles song ``Help.″

FLS employees have dubbed the company headquarters in Copenhagen’s Valby suburb ``the aunt″ and Schultz’s favorite band was the Beatles.

``Eventually I got the point,″ said Schultz.

The three men were employed by FLS Cement Investment, a division of FLS Industries. They were abducted Feb. 5 along with Karl-Heinz Dressel of Germany, who worked for Pfister but was with them at the Rio Claro cement plant near Medellin.

The Europeans were kidnapped near San Luis, about 130 miles northwest of the capital, Bogota.

Jan Carlsen of FLS said the conditions surrounding Dressel’s release in April were unclear. Pfister declined comment on the issue Tuesday.

Carlsen said 1,400 people _ up to 40 of them Europeans _ are being held hostage in Colombia. The South American nation has the highest kidnapping rate in the world, about three reported abductions a day.

Foreigners are choice targets because they fetch more money, although foreign companies usually deny they pay ransoms.