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Kidnap pair safe after terror trek; BRITISH HOSTAGES FREED BY MYSTERY CAPTORS AFTER 9 MONTHS.

Byline: VANESSA ALLEN

TWO Britons kidnapped nine months ago while trekking in Colombia today began their long-awaited journey home.

Paul Winder, from Chelmsford, Essex, and Tom Hart Dyke, from Eynsford, Kent, said they were in good health despite their ordeal and an eight- day walk to freedom.

Mr Winder, aged 29, and Mr Hart Dyke, aged 24, had been searching for rare orchids when they went missing in March. British embassy officials said it was still not clear why they had been captured.

They were released on December 10 and trekked through rainforest terrain before flagging down a Colombian park ranger to make contact with British officials.

They released a brief statement today before leaving to catch a flight back to London.

Mr Winder said: "All we want is to get home for Christmas."

The pair reached Bogota on Tuesday and said they had stayed at the British ambassador's residence before having medical checks and debriefings yesterday.

"We stayed at the ambassador's house, had a good meal, a couple of beers, watched the BBC news on TV, and went to bed," said Mr Winder.

He added: "As you can see we are well and in very good spirits in spite of our experiences during the past nine months.

"However, we are very tired and anxious to be reunited with our families in the UK as soon as possible."

Mr Winder said he and Mr Hart Dyke were kidnapped on March 16 by an armed group while walking through the Darien Gap, northern Colombia.

He said they still did not know who their captors were or why they had been seized, but said they were released without explanation on December 10.

British ambassador Jeremy Thorp said he was not aware of any ransom demands and said the kidnappers never contacted British authorities.

He said neither man had been beaten or mistreated.

The last the pair's families heard was postcards saying they were heading out on a trek from Yaviza in Panama to the infamous Darien Gap, a roadless region on the border with Colombia inhabited by Indian tribes, left-wing Colombian rebels and right-wing Colombian paramilitary forces.

Mr Hart Dyke is one of Britain's leading young horticulturists and has spent the last two years travelling the world in search of rare orchids.

His uncle, David Hart Dyke, was captain of HMS Coventry, which was sunk during the Falklands War in 1982 with the loss of 19 lives.

Mr Hart Dyke met Mr Winder, a merchant banker who is taking six months off while travelling in Puerto Rico.

CAPTION(S):

FREE: Paul Winder (left) and Tom Hart Dyke (main picture) at the residence of the British ambassador in Bogota, and (above) Capt David Hart Dyke
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Dec 21, 2000
Words:452
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