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FRANCE 24 journalist 'held prisoner' in Colombia
FRANCE 24 journalist Roméo Langlois is being held prisoner in Colombia, the French foreign minister announced Sunday. The Colombian defence minister added that Langlois was shot in the arm during a gun battle on Saturday before disappearing.
A FRANCE 24 journalist who went missing Saturday during a mission by the Colombian security forces against FARC rebels in the southern region of Caqueta has been taken prisoner, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said Sunday.
Roméo Langlois, who also works for the 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 Saturday.
Colombian Defence Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said that Langlois had received a bullet wound to the arm according to soldiers at the scene.
"We know the circumstances: he was taken during a clash between Colombian troops and the FARC. The confrontation was brutal, there were deaths, and the journalist was taken prisoner," Juppé said at a political rally.
On Monday, French foreign ministry spokesperson Romain Nadal said Langlois was “in all likelihood being held by the FARC” and called for his immediate release.
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 five 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 extensively covered the South American country, was covering the army’s crackdown on narco-trafficking for FRANCE 24 when he went missing.
(Click here for Langlois’ English coverage on Colombia for FRANCE 24)
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 group 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 elections.