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Americas

FRANCE 24 journalist held by FARC, Santos says

Text by By France 24

Latest update : 2012-05-02

FRANCE 24 journalist Roméo Langlois, who went missing Saturday during a military operation against FARC rebels, is being held by the guerrillas, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed on Tuesday.

The FRANCE 24 journalist who went missing Saturday during a mission by Colombian security forces against FARC rebels in the country’s southern region of Caqueta is being held hostage by the guerrillas, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed on Tuesday.

"We have very clear indications that the French journalist is being held by the FARC,'' Santos said late Monday, without providing any further details of Roméo Langlois’s whereabouts.

Langlois, who also works for French newspaper Le Figaro, was accompanying a military patrol on a mission to destroy drug laboratories in Caqueta when they were attacked by leftist FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas on Saturday.

The Colombian army said Wednesday that no plans were in the works to rescue Langlois.

"We will do nothing that could risk Roméo's life," Colonel Jamil Gutierrez, the commander of an anti-drug platoon, told AFP. Gutierrez said security forces were still trying to locate Langlois.

Colombian officials say the 35-year-old French journalist received a bullet wound to the arm when he was captured, according to soldiers at the scene.

Brutal confrontation

Santos’s statement bolstered the French authorities’ belief that Langlois had been kidnapped by FARC rebels. “Even if no one has yet claimed responsibility for his kidnapping, we, along with the Colombian authorities, believe that our compatriot is probably in the hands of the FARC,” read a statement from the French foreign ministry on Monday.

“We hold them responsible for M. Langlois’s situation. They have publicly vowed to end kidnappings. We ask them to uphold this engagement and we call them to immediately release M. Langlois.”

Three soldiers and a police officer were killed in the attack, which Colombian Defense Ministry officials called “heavy combat”. Four other soldiers were also wounded during the operation Counternarcotics Batallion No. 1 that destroyed four cocaine processing labs, according to Colombian security services.

Five soldiers who went missing with Langlois during the skirmish were later accounted for.

Langlois, a French citizen who lives in Colombia and has reported extensively from the country, was covering the army’s crackdown on narco-trafficking for FRANCE 24 when he went missing.

An 'experienced journalist'

In a statement issued Sunday, FRANCE 24 editors said they were coordinating with the French foreign ministry and Colombian authorities to get information on the fate of the missing journalist.

“We know that it’s a difficult region,” said Nahida Nakad, editorial director of Audiovisual Extérieur de la France, of which FRANCE 24 is a part. “Of course we are very worried, but we have every confidence in Roméo, who knows the territory very well and is an experienced journalist. We hope he is safe and sound, and we are in constant contact with his family. The entire FRANCE 24 editorial team is concerned, and we are standing behind his family at this difficult time.”

In a phone interview with FRANCE 24 Sunday from the Colombian capital of Bogota, Simone Bruno, another FRANCE 24 correspondent, said he was supposed to accompany Langlois on the mission, but it kept getting postponed due to bad weather.

“We were in the military base waiting for the operation to start on Tuesday, then they delayed it till Wednesday, then Thursday and then Friday. At that point, I left and Roméo stayed on,” said Bruno. “I last talked to him Friday night and he told me they were going to start the mission at 4am Saturday and he said he would send a message when he was coming back.”

But later Saturday, when Bruno heard that the area had come under attack and that there were casualties, he started making calls to try to get information about Langlois.
“Initially, we had very confused information,” said Bruno. “In the end, we talked to a [Colombian army] general who told us that Roméo was missing at this point and they’re still looking for him.”

Ransoms and narco-trafficking

Founded in 1964, FARC is one of the continent’s last remaining Marxist guerrilla groups that for decades has conducted a campaign of kidnappings and executions. One of FARC’s most prominent former hostages was Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian politician who was held in captivity for more than six years before her release in 2008.

Ransoms from kidnappings, as well as the drug trade, have been the major source of FARC funding over the past few decades.

In recent months, Colombian forces have also made gains in their fight against the rebels mostly in the northern part of the country.

Weakened by the US-backed Colombian military offensive, FARC has conducted a few prisoner releases over the past few months and earlier this year, the group announced that it was halting the use of ransoms as a revenue source.

But while Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called it “a step in the right direction,” he warned that there was not enough evidence that FARC planned to give up on its lucrative revenue source or that they were seriously interested in attempts at peace negotiations.

Analysts have cautioned that peace talks, even back-channel negotiations, are not likely to yield results before the 2014 presidential election.

 

Date created : 2012-05-01

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