SAN ISIDRO, Colombia – Marxist rebels Wednesday, May 30, freed a French journalist kidnapped more than a month ago, handing him over to a Red Cross team in a remote jungle village.
“Apart from the fact that I was held for a month, everything went very well. I cannot complain,” France 24 reporter Romeo Langlois told reporters after arriving in a village in Caqueta department with a group of rebels.
Langlois had been captured at the end of April by rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during an attack on a Colombian army unit he was embedded with to film a counter-drug operation.
A smiling Langlois was greeted Wednesday by a crowd as he arrived in the small village of San Isidro in the Colombian jungle, before being handed over to a team from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
He was wearing a gray shirt and black pants, and had arrived in the village of about 300 people driven in a car and accompanied by several rebels.
“Apart from the fact that I was held for a month, everything went very well. I cannot complain,” Langlois said.
“They treated me like a guest. They were always very respectful.”
Moment for France
The rebels handed over Langlois to an ICRC delegation also including French envoy Jean-Baptiste Chauvin and longtime peace activist Piedad Cordoba.
“This has been a long awaited moment for France,” Chauvin said. “I am delighted to be able to greet my countryman.
“This is a time of great relief as Romeo will be able to continue his work as a journalist and reunite with his family.”
The delegation had left the southern town of Florencia, the capital of Caqueta department, in a convoy of three cars bearing the Red Cross symbol before dawn.
Six hours later, they arrived at the pre-arranged handover spot located at least 100 kilometers (60 miles) away, an AFP journalist with the delegation said.
At the request of the rebels, the Colombian army agreed to suspend all military operations in the area for 36 hours.
Eager to welcome Langlois, locals had sacrificed several cows for a celebratory barbecue in the village, which has no running water or electricity.
As armed rebels in olive green fatigues and rubber boots patrolled the streets, banners were put up calling for an end to the decades-long conflict between the FARC and the military.
“We, the mothers of rebels and soldiers, call for an end to this fratricide,” read one banner. “We need the state to be there — not with its weapons and bombs, but with its investments,” read another.
The rebels released a “proof of life” video of the 35-year-old reporter on Monday, showing him in a jungle setting, speaking on camera and in apparent good health, despite having received a superficial bullet wound in the arm shortly before his capture.
Thanks to mediation by Cordoba — a former Colombian senator — and the ICRC, the guerrillas have released dozens of hostages since 2008, most of them police officers or troops captured during clashes.
French President Francois Hollande, as one of his first moves after taking office earlier this month, appointed Chauvin as an envoy to help secure the release of Langlois, underscoring the importance given by the new administration in Paris to resolving the kidnapping.
The last French national held by the FARC was Ingrid Betancourt, a former Colombian senator and presidential candidate. She was abducted during her presidential campaign in February 2002, along with her assistant, Clara Rojas.
Betancourt and 14 other hostages — including three US military contractors — were freed in an operation by the Colombian military in July 2008.
Founded in 1964, the FARC is the oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group in the country with some 9,200 fighters.
The FARC renounced the practice of kidnappings for ransom in February but has stepped up attacks on Colombian security forces over the past year in remote parts of the country. – Agence France-Presse