Senators meet ambassador

Allard, Salazar trying to get men detained in UAE sent home

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Colorado's two U.S. senators met with the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates on Thursday to discuss the status of two local men being held in the UAE.

Senators Wayne Allard (R) and Ken Salazar (D) met with Ambassador Al Asri Saeed Ahmed Al Dhahri for 45 minutes in Allard's office, Allard's Communication Director Angela de Rocha said. De Rocha described the meeting among the three men as cordial.

The passports of Steamboat Springs residents Jonathan Coles, 37, and Steve Rakowski, 39, were confiscated Dec. 12, and they have not been allowed to leave the UAE since. The two men were working as surveyors with CompassCom, a Centennial-based mapping company, when UAE authorities questioned them.

Coles and Rakowski, who have lived in Steamboat Springs for years, said they have been told repeatedly that the problem would be taken care of and that they would be able to leave the country in a couple of days.

The two could face possible charges of taking photographs in sensitive locations, operating equipment for which an import permit is required and sending illegal radio transmissions.

Both men say they did nothing wrong and have been held against their will in the UAE for almost four months.

"While we understand that a full investigation of the circumstances is expected, the fact that months have gone by without any resolution of their situation is extremely troubling," Allard said in a press release issued by his office.

The two senators emphasized to the ambassador how important it is that the situation be resolved as quickly as possible.

"The UAE government is now very aware of how closely Congress and the U.S. government are watching the treatment of these two Americans," Allard said.

Both senators said the ambassador promised to keep them updated about any new information and would let them know of the next steps the UAE government plans to take, according to the press release.

"I appreciate the ambassador coming to meet with us. I am confident he now understands how important I see the resolution of this issue and what it means to these Coloradans and their families," Salazar said. "He assured me he would provide me with additional information. I will hold him to that."

The two Steamboat Springs men were taken into custody and questioned Dec. 12 for using a Global Positioning System and working on a project for an Internet mapping program similar to MapQuest.

The two men were taking photos of GPS equipment set up on street corners in Abu Dhabi. Taking photos of GPS equipment to send back to the company to prove they were in certain locations is a common practice and done around the world, Coles said.

The two have been staying in an Abu Dhabi hotel and have been working with an international attorney. They have not been told whether formal charges have been filed. The case could go to trial, but Coles and Rakowski do not know when that would be.

"We are committed to working together to finding a solution -- and to bringing these men home," Allard said.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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