Colombia’s FARC rebel group have apparently released a statement saying that they are holding a missing French journalist as a prisoner of war, according to reports.
A woman claiming to be a guerrilla with the 15th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) telephoned a journalist on Tuesday to say that the group was holding Romeo Langlois. The French journalist went missing on Saturday when an army unit he was embedded with came under fire from the rebels. The statement said:
The 15th Front informs the public that the French journalist, uniformed as a soldier and captured in combat, is in our hands and is a prisoner of war. He is lightly wounded on one arm, he has been given medical attention and is out of danger. Signed, Estado Mayor of the 15th Front, Southern Bloc of the FARC-EP. Mountains of Caqueta, April 30 2012.
The call was received by a Noticias Uno reporter located in Union Peneya, Caqueta province, close to where Langlois disappeared, reports El Espectador.
The army has denied that Langlois was dressed as a soldier. General Javier Enrique Rey Navas said that the journalist had been wearing an olive green helmet and bulletproof vest, for protection, but these were different from those worn by the soldiers, which were in camouflage print. Reports from soldiers on the scene say that, after being wounded by a bullet, Langlois removed his helmet and jacket before approaching the guerrillas, announcing himself as a civilian.
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Following the announcement, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon accused the rebels of failing to keep to their promise of ending kidnapping. In February, the group released a statement (no longer available on their website) saying that they would end the practice of kidnapping for ransom, as well as freeing their 10 remaining military and police hostages:
Much has been said about the retention of people, men or women of the civilian population, for financial ends for the FARC to sustain our fight. With the same will expressed before, we announce that from this date we forbid this practice in our revolutionary conduct.
Holding Langlois prisoner, then, would not seem to contradict this statement, as the rebels apparently have not demanded a ransom for his release. As InSight Crime pointed out in February, the motivation behind the promise to cease kidnapping civilians for ransom could simply be that this is no longer a big earner for the rebels. They may have decided that kidnapping Colombians and demanding money from their families was not worth the loss in political capital. Holding a French journalist prisoner in order to get international attention and show their power is a different proposition, and may still be attractive for the group.
However, continuing to hold Langlois does clash with the spirit of the February statement, and suggests that peace talks may not be an immediate prospect. The Colombian government has repeatedly said that ending kidnapping is a prerequisite for talks. Many onlookers have pointed out that Langlois cannot be considered a prisoner of war, as he was not armed, and clearly identified himself as a journalist rather than a combatant.