El Salvador frees US journalist

In a bizarre series of events described by US Rep. James Oberstar (D) of Minnesota as ''a modern miracle,'' a free-lance US journalist arrested by Salvadorean police here last week was released Wednesday.

Monitor correspondent Rushworth M. Kidder reports the journalist, T.J. Western of Minneapolis, was arrested in connection with an 80-minute telephone interview he gave to San Diego radio station KPBS. Treasury police chief Francisco Moran said he was being held in connection with an investigation of possible arms trafficking, a subject Mr. Western reportedly discussed on the Spanish-language radio program.

But the day of the journalist's arrest, Mr. Oberstar arrived here as part of a three-day congressional fact-finding mission. By pressing the case with the Treasury police through US embassy channels, he secured Mr. Western's release in what observers here say is an astonishingly short time. Mr. Western, who must remain in the country pending completion of an investigation, said he was well treated and questioned at reasonable hours while in prison.

Representative Oberstar and others here see this case as significant in two ways. It marks the first admission by Treasury police that they are wiretapping journalists' phone calls. It also suggests that they may be escalating their harassment of journalists, whom government officials here routinely suspect of being in complicity with left-wing guerrilla forces. A second journalist, Joan Ambrose Newton of Columbia, Mo., who was arrested with Mr. Western at his home, was also released.

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