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Colombian, Ecuadoran and U.S. investigators are working together to free

Scott Heimdal, a mining engineer from Peoria, Ill., kidnapped for ransom by leftist Colombian rebels, Interior Minister Andres Vallejo said Saturday.Vallejo did not say whether efforts to free Heimdal - kidnapped April 28 while traveling on a river near the Colombia-Ecuador border in the Amazon jungle - were making progress, but described cooperation between the three nations as "broad."

Heimdal, 27, was employed by the International Mining Co. to operate key gold-mining machinery before he was abducted by Colombia's Maoist People's Liberation Army, known by its Spanish acronym EPL.

The rebels asked for $60,000 bail. But when Heimdal's family raised that amount and sent it to the EPL, the kidnappers raised their ransom demand to more than $600,000.

Police said Heimdal was in a boat owned by the mining company when it was intercepted and fired upon by EPL rebels in another boat. A Colombian steering Heimdal's boat died in the attack.

An Ecuadoran man kidnapped with Heimdal was released one day later with the EPL's ransom demand.

The latest lead in the case came when it was revealed that Heimdal's employers had accused a former employee of the International Mining Co. of helping with the abduction.

According to Ecuadoran court rec-ords obtained by a Peoria television reporter in Quito Friday, International Mining Co. manager Jeff Fino accused Jaimie Galarraga, a former employee at his mine, of being an EPL sympathizer.

The EPL is a splinter group of the Colombian Communist Party and has been described by U.S. House Minority Leader Robert Michel as "terrorists."

In a copyright report, WHOI-TV's Bob Arya reported from Quito that Fino said Galarraga tried repeatedly to extort money from the International Mining Co. to support the EPL and Galarraga assisted in the kidnapping of Heimdal.

Fino said the Peoria man was targeted by Galarraga and the EPL because the mine would be idled by the abduction of Heimdal, who operated a key piece of equipment.

Formed in 1967, the EPL has previously kidnapped two Americans. One was later released and one died of a heart attack in captivity.

Fino's six-page letter asks that kidnapping, extortion and subversive action charges be lodged against Galarraga. Ecuadoran authorites and U.S. embassy representatives reportedly fear Galarraga, who has Ecuadoran and U.S. citizenship, has escaped across the Ecuadorian border into Colombia.

The TV station also reported Friday sources told Arya that Heimdal was being held in Colombia in lieu of the ransom the EPL faction sought earlier in the week.