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The BBC's Rachel Ellison
"It has been a nine month ordeal for the two Britons, and their families"
 real 56k

Thursday, 21 December, 2000, 17:08 GMT
UK hostages reunited with families
Thomas Hart Dyke (left) and Paul Winder
Thomas Hart Dyke (left) and Paul Winder at Gatwick
Two freed UK hostages have been reunited with their families after arriving back in Britain from a nine-month ordeal in Colombia.

Paul Winder and Tom Hart Dyke were taken hostage after stumbling across rebels while hunting for rare species of orchid.

There were low times, high times, terrifying times and fantastic times

Paul Winder
"It was a huge roller-coaster of emotion," said Mr Winder, 29, from Chelmsford, Essex.

The pair were freed on 10 December and trekked for eight days through rainforest terrain before flagging down a Colombian park ranger near the Panamanian border.

British Embassy officials said it was unclear why the pair had been captured.

The two men were flown to Bogota and arrived in Gatwick Airport on Thursday at 1330GMT, where they met relatives in a private suite.

Mr Winder and Mr Hart Dyke, 24, a horticulturist from Eynsford, Kent, were reported missing in early March while trekking in the jungle border area where left-wing guerrillas and ultra-right paramilitaries are active.

Thomas Hart Dyke with his mother, Sarah
Thomas Hart Dyke: Kiss from mother, Sarah
The area lies on a major drug and weapons trafficking route and is considered very dangerous.

Describing their capture, Mr Winder said: "They had us on the floor with our hands tied up.

"Initially, they used their guns to get us onto the ground, they tied us up for half an hour and said `are you going to run?'

"After that it never happened again."

The Britons said they were generally looked after well by their captors, who even built a bed with cushions for them to lie on.

Mr Winder revealed that at one point, the rebels told them a ransom was being sought.

"They did mention that we had to pay a ransom and they said five milllion dollars (about $3.3 million) for each person," he said.

"We tried to live off each other.

Paul Winder with his mother, Anne
Family pride: Paul with mother Anne
"There were low times, high times, terrifying times and fantastic times. "It was a huge roller-coaster of emotion."

The captors never disclosed why they took the Britons hostage.

Jeremy McDermott, a BBC correspondent in Bogota, said the men's kidnap was "becoming less and less clear all the time".

He said the area in which they were captured was "notoriously lawless" but the only people involved in kidnaps were guerillas who normally demanded a ransom.

A spokesman for the British Embassy in Bogota had no details of whether a ransom had been asked for or paid.

"They told us they had been detained on March 16 by an armed group but we have not identified the group," he said.

'Kidnap capital'

Nearly 3,000 abductions occurred last year alone in Colombia, which authorities often describe as the kidnap capital of the world.

Most were blamed on the country's two leading Marxist rebel groups, who use ransom money to help finance an uprising against the state that has claimed 35,000 lives since 1990.

In July, Mr Hart Dyke's mother went to Colombia to look for her son.

Warnings ignored

It emerged the two men had ignored the warnings of locals who said it was dangerous terrain and rife with guerrillas, paramilitary groups and drugs gangs.

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.

He met Mr Winder, a merchant banker who is taking six months off from working at Salomon Brothers, while travelling in Puerto Rico.

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24 Dec 99 | Americas
Colombia 'kidnap capital of world'
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