The Libyan government has acknowledged that a Baltimore writer who went missing in the early weeks of the conflict there is alive and in custody, a Maryland congressman said Tuesday.
Libyan officials acknowledged that Matthew VanDyke was in custody during talks with Hungarian officials before Ramadan began last week, according to U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger's office. The United States suspended embassy operations in Libya, but has been working with its protecting power there, and in Hungary and other countries, to help American citizens in Libya. For months, Libyan officials said they had no information about VanDyke's whereabouts.
"This is the first time Libyan authorities have acknowledged that they have detained Matthew VanDyke and they will now be held accountable for his welfare and whereabouts," Ruppersberger said in a statement. The U.S. must continue to reach out to partners who are still operating in Libya to bring VanDyke and other imprisoned Americans home, he said.
"I'm certainly glad of the news, but I don't know what it means," Sharon VanDyke, the captive's mother, said Tuesday. She hopes the Libyan government's acknowledgement means that the U.S. can actively pursue her son's release.
Matthew VanDyke's girlfriend, Lauren Fischer, said the report was too iffy to give her much comfort.
"For me, that's excellent to hear," she said. "But at the same time everything seems to be moving quite slowly."
VanDyke traveled to Libya this winter to write about the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi and disappeared in March. His travels throughout the Middle East and southeast Asia from 2007 to 2009 included a visit to Libya for six weeks in 2008. He planned to be at home for a year working on a book about his travels, but he found himself distracted by the events in the Middle East, his mother said.
Matthew VanDyke called home March 12, saying he would take a day trip to the eastern Libyan oil town of Brega to take photographs. His mother received a message with GPS coordinates from Brega the next day, but that was the last contact she had with him.
Last month, officials said the State Department was trying to confirm sightings of the 32-year-old in a Tripoli prison. The State Department is aware of the reports about Van Dyke and continues to work for access to and the eventual release of all U.S. citizens detained in Libya, a department official said Tuesday. The department is tracking and assisting six citizens who are missing or presumed detained in Libya.