Locals held in Mideast

United Arab Emirates detaining two Steamboat men

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Two Steamboat Springs men who work for a Colorado-based mapping company have been restricted from leaving the United Arab Emirates for more than three months.

On Dec. 12, Jonathan Coles and Steve Rakowski were working near the capital city of Abu Dhabi when they were questioned by UAE authorities about their work, said Angela de Rocha, communications director for Republican Sen. Wayne Allard. UAE officials later confiscated the men's passports, and they have not been allowed to leave, de Rocha said.

Allard plans to meet with the UAE ambassador next month to discuss what needs to be done to get the men home.

"This situation is an unfortunate series of events," de Rocha said. "The two individuals, as far as we know, didn't do anything wrong. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Senator Allard is working to get this situation straightened out."

Coles and Rakowski are surveyors with CompassCom, a Centennial company that collects ground data to make field maps. The company often does subcontract work for larger contractors.

CompassCom Chief Oper--ating Officer Jim Miller said the company has not received definitive word on what charges, if any, Coles and Rakowski face.

"We don't have any confirmation, nothing has been registered," he said.

Coles and Rakowski are staying at an Abu Dhabi hotel and have daily contact with the United States through phone and e-mails, Miller said. Efforts to contact their families Friday were unsuccessful.

"They were requested by the country to stay there until UAE figures out what it is they need to do," Miller said. "We are doing everything in our effort to abide by that request."

De Rocha said the information Allard's office has indicates UAE authorities questioned the men about taking photos in a sensitive location and possibly violating radio transmission laws in the UAE. De Rocha said Allard thinks the men's actions were inadvertent and unintentional.

Miller would not comment about the men's work.

"Our contractors and our people have it so they are never in sensitive areas, never in areas they don't have permission specifically to do coordinating efforts and collection efforts," Miller said. "I'll leave it at that."

Miller said it is not unheard of for employees sometimes to be detained in a country, but it doesn't happen every day, either.

"Given the times and conditions, there are opportunities for many different cultures to have misunderstandings daily with law and local customs," Miller said.

The UAE borders the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf and is between Oman and Saudi Arabia. The country is slightly smaller than Maine and has an estimated population of 3.44 million.

Allard has set up a meeting with UAE Ambassador Al Asri Saeed Ahmed Al Dhahri for April 7. Allard hopes that meeting will clarify the men's status, de Rocha said. The senator will ask the ambassador to do everything he can to allow the men to come home.

"It is not unusual for members of Congress, for Senator Allard, to help people's families in something like this," de Rocha said.

Miller said the timing of when the men leave the country is out of the company's hands.

"The timeline is completely not up to us," Miller said. "We are dealing with a different culture and a different legal structure.

"We have every expectation they will be home very, very soon."

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