The father of one of the six tourists kidnaped last July by political dissidents in Zimbabwe said yesterday that the six men have been seen in a village near where they were seized.
"I was heartened by the latest report, the first in about three weeks, that confirmed my son's whereabouts," Brooks Baldwin, whose son Brett, 23, is one of the six hostages, said by telephone from his home in Walnut Creek, Calif.
"I was happy to learn that all six of them are still together--at least that's what we've been told," he said.
Baldwin said he received a sketchy report by telephone over the weekend from the State Department, which was relaying to him the contents of a cable received here from the Zimbabwean capital city of Harare.
According to Baldwin, the cable said Zimbabwean troops went to an unidentified village in the Lupine area of Matabeleland where they saw the six kidnaped tourists in the hands of about 15 armed dissidents. The tourists were seized on a highway 40 miles north of the Matabeleland provincial capital of Bulawayo.
"The cable said the troops shot at one dissident and even recovered his weapon, but it didn't say anything else," Baldwin said.
"It didn't say if they hit the dissident, where the dissidents took the men they kidnaped or whether they even entered the village to search it. We're waiting for elaborative information." The sighting would be the first confirmed spotting of the kidnapers and their hostages since early August.
The kidnapers, who claim to be ex-guerrillas loyal to opposition leader Joshua Nkomo, have vowed to shoot the foreigners unless Prime Minister Robert Mugabe releases political prisoners loyal to Nkomo.
Besides Baldwin, the hostages are Kevin Ellis, 24, of Bellevue, Wash.; Australians Tony Bajzelj, 25, of Ullverstone and William Butler, 31, of Newcastle, and Britons James Greenwell, 18, of Liverpool and Martyn Hodgeson, 35, of Peterborough.
Ending a four-month trip through Africa, the six men were abducted July 23 on the road from Victoria Falls to Bulawayo in southwestern Zimbabwe. Mugabe has sent as many as 2,000 troops to search for the kidnapers and their hostages, and only yesterday lifted a dusk-to-dawn curfew on the region where the kidnapings occurred.
The Matabeleland provincial police commander, Senior Assistant Commissioner Abishai Chisenwa, said the curfew was lifted because local villagers have begun to cooperate with searchers.
Security officers said the search had been hindered by villagers who sheltered the kidnapers and erased their escape routes by driving cattle across their truck tracks. The State Department said it had no information other than what Baldwin said he had been given.
"We have nothing more than what Mr. Baldwin told you. There is zero to report," State Department spokesman Sue Pittman said.
Baldwin said he and his wife were planning last night to fly to Seattle to be with the parents of their son's friend, Ellis. "We've decided to sit down with Mr. and Mrs. Ellis and talk things over," he said.