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FARC rebels say they are holding FRANCE 24 journalist
In a message broadcast over a local Colombian radio station, FARC rebels said they are holding FRANCE 24 journalist Romeo Langlois, who has been missing since Saturday. Colombian authorities are calling the claim "credible".
In a message broadcast over Colombian radio waves Wednesday, FARC rebels have said they are holding a FRANCE 24 journalist who has been missing since Saturday, according to a Colombian military official who called the rebels’ claim “credible”.
Romeo Langlois, a French citizen who lives in Colombia and has extensively reported on the armed conflict in the South American country, was embedded with the Colombian military during a crackdown on narco-trafficking in the southern region of Caqueta for FRANCE 24 when he went missing.
The broadcast radio statement, read by a woman claiming to be a FARC member, said: "The 15th division informs the public that the French journalist, who was dressed in military clothes and captured in battle, is in our hands as a prisoner of war."
The FARC's Front 15 is believed to comprise about 300 fighters supported by an estimated 2,000 non-combatants.
Speaking to reporters, the commander of the Colombian army's aviation wing General Javier Rey said Langlois is "a journalist who was doing his job... as such, he is protected, as a civilian, by the Geneva Convention." Rey also refuted the claim that Langlois was wearing military clothes.
Six people, including Langlois, were missing following the rebel attack on a military patrol early Saturday. Of the six, only the French journalist is still in captivity. The five Colombian soldiers who were captured along with Langlois were released Sunday.
Shortly after Wednesday's FARC statement, Colombian authorities announced that they were suspending flights over the “red zone” - the rebel stronghold between the Andes and the Amazon where Langlois disappeared.
The suspension was a move to encourage FARC rebels to release the 35-year-old journalist. "We made this decision once we had confirmation that the guerrillas were holding him. We lowered the pressure on the terrorist group and they now have total freedom to release the journalist," said Gen. Rey.
Langlois 'slightly' wounded in the arm
In its message to the media, FARC also said Langlois was "slightly wounded in one arm”, had received medical treatment and was "out of danger."
But Gen. Rey dismissed that assessment saying, "In the rainforest, injuries can get infected easily. He should be immediately transported to a medical post".
In the latest call for the journalist’s freedom, French presidential candidate François Hollande told France 24 and RFI: "Regarding Romeo Langlois, if we are elected, then we have to ensure his release."
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 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 announced earlier this year that it was halting the use of ransoms as a revenue source. While Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called the announcement “a step in the right direction,” he warned that there was not enough evidence that FARC planned to give up on lucrative kidnappings, nor that it was seriously interested in attempts at peace negotiations.
Analysts have cautioned that peace talks, even back-channel negotiations, are not likely to yield results before a 2014 presidential election.