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Wednesday, 02 May 2012

UPDATE: Colombian Rebels Reportedly Confirm Capture of French Correspondent

IPI Urges Authorities to Clarify Whereabouts of Roméo Langlois 

By: Scott Griffen, IPI Associate

French journalist Romeo Langlois is seen in this undated photo distributed to the media by French television station, France 24, in Paris April 29, 2012. REUTERS/France 24 Television/Handout

VIENNA, May 2, 2012 – The International Press Institute (IPI) today expressed concern for the safety of a French journalist suspected of being held hostage by leftist rebels, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, according to its Spanish acronym), and urged the Colombian government to clarify his whereabouts.  

Roméo Langlois, a correspondent for France 24 TV and Le Figaro, went missing during a clash between FARC guerrillas and Colombian government forces on April 28.  Langlois, a long-time reporter on the Colombian conflict, had been accompanying Colombian soldiers on a mission to destroy FARC cocaine farms as part of a documentary on drug trafficking in the country.

Yesterday, in an anonymous phone call made to members of the Colombian press, a woman claiming to represent FARC’s Front 15 wing appeared to confirm that the group had taken Langlois hostage.  

According to Colombian media, the caller said the journalist, whom she said had been dressed in military garb, had been taken as a “prisoner of war” during combat.  The woman added that Langlois was wounded in the arm, but had received medical attention and was “out of danger.”

However, AFP reported that FARC had yet to produce a statement confirming the alleged kidnapping on any of the websites they normally use for public communication.  

In a statement issued yesterday, the Colombian Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP, according to its Spanish acronym) emphasised the uncertainty of Langlois’s situation and called for caution in reporting on the case.  “Any speculation or unconfirmed information about the facts and whereabouts of the journalist could put him in more risk,” the statement read.  

On Monday, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos Calderón said that there were “clear signs” that FARC was holding Langlois and demanded that the guerrillas uphold a promise made this past February not to kidnap civilians.  

“Colombia and the whole world are waiting for FARC to make good on their word,” Santos Calderón declared.  “The FARC alone will be held accountable for anything that happens to this journalist.”

Media reports indicate that Langlois had been wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet when the confrontation broke out. However, he was not carrying any weapons.  Accounts conflicted, however, as to whether he was wearing military uniform elements at the time.  After being wounded in the arm, Langlois apparently removed the vest and helmet in an attempt to identify himself to the rebels as a journalist.  

Colombian vice president Angelino Garzón appeared over the weekend to question the wisdom of allowing Langlois to accompany soldiers on the mission, saying the incident should lead to “reflection” among the media.  “In which cases should a journalist be invited inside the armed forces?” he asked, according to Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper.  

However, the vice president took a harder line after learning of yesterday’s phone call.  “Neither the state nor the national and international communities, under any cirumstances, can accept that the French journalist is a prisoner of war.  It is inadmissible … the only weapon he had was a camera,” Garzón remarked, according to Colombian media. 

IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi said today: “A great deal about Mr. Langlois’s disappearance remains unknown at this time.  If, however, FARC is indeed holding him hostage, it needs to release him immediately and unconditionally, in keeping with its recent promise to cease civilian kidnappings.  Referring to him as a prisoner of war, as has been alleged, is wilfully dishonest and an affront to the work of all journalists in Colombia.  As numerous international agreements have stated, journalists covering a conflict are civilians and are to be respected and protected as such.”

Trionfi continued, “Journalists play an extraordinarily critical and courageous role in providing independent information about the activities of rebel groups and drug traffickers in Colombia.  In this sense, the alleged capture of Mr. Langlois ultimately harms most the Colombian people and the international community, whose right to know about events of public interest is being infringed.”

She added: “We call upon the governments of both Colombia and France to do everything in their power to secure the release of Mr. Langlois, a veteran reporter who by all accounts took appropriate precautions for reporting in a conflict zone .”  

Langlois, 35, first arrived in Colombia 12 years ago to cover a peace agreement with between former president Andrés Pastrana Arango and FARC rebels.  France 24 has announced it had sent two of its journalists to Colombia to investigate Langlois’s disappearance.