Colombia's leftist FARC rebels confirmed Wednesday the abduction of missing French journalist Romeo Langlois, and said they were holding him as a prisoner of war.
The confirmation was made by a woman claiming to be a FARC member via telephone calls to journalists investigating Langlois's disappearance while filming an anti-cocaine operation by Colombian security forces south of the country over the weekend.
"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," said a statement read out to journalists by the woman claiming to be the group's spokesperson.
Langlois, an employee of TV channel France 24, went missing on Saturday as he was accompanying Colombian troops in the country's southern Caqueta department to make a documentary about the fight against drugs and illegal mining.
Colombian troops said later that Langlois appeared to be injured in a gunfight that broke out with the rebels during a raid to destroy cocaine laboratories. Langlois was reportedly wearing a bullet-proof vest and a helmet issued by the military when he disappeared.
Both Colombian and French authorities now believe that the injured journalist was taken hostage by the FARC rebels during the raid, which resulted in the death of a police officer as well as three soldiers.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said a day earlier that there were "clear indications" that Langlois was in the custody of the leftist rebel group. Without elaborating further, the Colombian president urged FARC rebels to "keep their word" they had ended their practice of kidnapping.
The FARC rebels have been accused in the past of using money generated from smuggling cocaine to fund their insurgency. FARC insurgents still carry out attacks on Colombian security forces and other targets despite tough security measures enforced by former President Alvaro Uribe, who completed his term in office last August.
The strong anti-militant policies and related military operations initiated by Uribe since he first took office in 2002 had put the rebel group on the defensive. But there has been an escalation in FARC attacks in recent months despite a series of successes for the Colombian government in its campaign against the rebel group in recent years.
The leftist rebel group has been fighting the Colombian government for almost five decades in what is said to be Latin America's longest-running insurgency. The rebels seek to impose a leftist regime in the country, which they believe would redistribute land more equitably among its impoverished population.
Santos had earlier rejected a FARC offer to begin peace talks, insisting that such negotiations would be possible only if the rebel group renounced violence and released all hostages. In an effort to show its commitment to future peace talks with the government, the group recently released the last remaining ten security personnel held hostage and pledged to abandon kidnappings for money.
by RTT Staff Writer
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