BOGOTA, Colombia – A French journalist who went missing during combat between Colombian troops and leftist rebels suffered a bullet wound in the left arm during the firefight, Colombia's defense minister said Sunday.
A survivor of Saturday's attack by leftist rebels saw Romeo Langlois, 35, sustain the wound when troops he was accompanying on a mission to destroy cocaine labs was attacked by guerrillas protecting one of their targets, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon told reporters.
France's foreign minister, Alain Juppe, was quoted by his office as saying Langlois was kidnapped. But Pinzon indicated uncertainty and said he did not know Langlois' whereabouts.
Pinzon said it appeared that during a firefight that lasted much of Saturday morning Langlois decided to remove his helmet and bullet-proof vest. Pinzon said he identified himself as a civilian and headed toward guerrillas of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by their Spanish initials FARC.
"That's all the information we have about him. We don't know for sure at this moment what happened to him," Pinzon said during a briefing at the Larandia military base in the southern state of Caqueta where the combat occurred.
"Someone who was with him up until the last moment told me that at one point Romeo was hit by a bullet in his left arm," said Pinzon.
Three soldiers and a police officer were killed and six wounded in Saturday's firefight, the Defense Ministry said.
Pinzon said some of the rebels wore civilian clothing and fired from homes. He said that due to bad weather the unit that came under attack could not immediately be reinforced that some troops dispersed into the thick jungle.
"The journalist was taken prisoner" during the clash, Juppe's press office quoted him as saying. Juppe's spokesman, Romain Nadal, offered no details about who was holding Langlois or whether they were in contact with French or Colombian authorities.
Langlois is a freelancer with years of experience in the region who was on assignment for France 24 television, the all-news network said in a statement. Calls by The Associated Press to his cellphone went unanswered.
Pinzon said Langlois had 12 years of experience covering Colombia's conflict and was with a counternarcotics unit that had destroyed one cocaine lab and was en route to another when attacked. Authorities said the firefight occurred in the hamlet of Buena Vista in the municipality of Montanita.
Before French officials announced Langlois had been kidnapped, France 24 said in a statement that it hoped Langlois was "safe and sound."
"We know that it is a dangerous region. We are of course worried, but we trust Romeo, who knows the area well and has a lot of experience," Nahida Nakad, chief international news editor for the network, said in the statement.
The French government was in contact with Langlois' family, a French Foreign Ministry official said. Ministry policy does not authorize the official to be publicly named.
Langlois has also written for the daily Le Figaro. His most recent article, published April 20, profiled a former child soldier for the FARC who later deserted.
The FARC, founded in 1964, is Latin America's last remaining major insurgency. Funded largely by the cocaine trade, it has in recent years been seriously weakened by Colombia's U.S.-backed military. It is believed to number about 8,000 fighters.
Earlier this month, the FARC released 10 soldiers and police who it said were its last remaining "political prisoners." It has pledged to halt ransom kidnapping as a good-faith gesture it hopes will presage peace talks.
But President Juan Manuel Santos has said he is not yet satisfied that the FARC has met conditions for such talks.
The rebels have been blamed for the kidnapping last June of four Chinese oil workers in the same southern state where Saturday's incident occurred.
The last known instance of a foreign journalist being detained by rebels in Colombia occurred in 2003, when two journalists on assignment for the Los Angeles Times were held for 12 days before being released unharmed.
Angela Charlton in Paris and Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.