Colombian rebels release video of French reporter
BOGOTA, Colombia – The Venezuelan TV network Telesur broadcast Monday the first video images of a French journalist captured a month ago by Colombian rebels, who say they plan to release him on Wednesday.
The video, taken by the rebels, shows Romeo Langlois, 35, seated and covered with a white towel, having his left forearm sutured for a bullet wound and looking relaxed but pallid as he answers questions from a female guerrilla.
The rebels said they recorded the video about two hours after Langlois surrendered on April 28, according to independent journalist Karl Penhaul, who obtained the footage from them. Langlois had been accompanying Colombian troops on a cocaine lab destruction mission in the jungles of southern Colombia when the guerrillas attacked them.
In a separate interview on May 23, a commander of the rebel front that captured Langlois told Penhaul that a bullet had entered Langlois' arm above the elbow and exited the forearm. The commander, Colacho Mendoza, said neither bone nor tendon suffered damage and that Langlois was given antibiotics and pain killers.
He said the journalist had lost some mobility in the arm but that the wound is healing well. Langlois has covered Colombia for more than a decade and was on assignment for the TV station France 24.
"He was lucky," said Mendoza, considering the power of the weapon involved. "It was an AK-47 round that hit him."
Three soldiers and a police officer were killed in the attack by the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by the group's Spanish initials FARC, in Caqueta province, a sparsely populated traditional rebel stronghold.
At the beginning of the video, Langlois states his name, profession and nationality and says "Ask me some questions if you want. Strange, normally it is I who asks the questions."
Asked what he was doing with the military, Langlois explains that he has covered all sides of the conflict including interviewing FARC commander Raul Reyes twice. Reyes was slain in a 2008 raid across the border into Ecuador by Colombian forces.
Langlois tells his questioner that he realizes he was in a hot zone and was aware of the risks.
"But the truth is I didn't think it would get so terrible," he says.
Mendoza, a veteran commander of the FARC's 15th front, said the rebels attacked about an hour after the troops that Langlois was accompanying disembarked from a helicopter. He denied they were guarding a cocaine lab.
He said that about two hours before the end of the battle, the rebels realized a foreigner was present.
"It was practically at the moment he decided to hand himself in or rather surrender and let us capture him. He had no option but to surrender and be captured or die in the operation," Mendoza said.
He said Langlois was wearing "some items of military clothing." The journalist had been given a helmet and body armor by the military, Colombian authorities said, and shed them during the firefight.
At one point in the video Langlois is asked for information about the military unit he was accompanying and is heard saying he cannot answer because as a journalist he must preserve his neutrality.
The FARC announced over the weekend that it would present the coordinates for Langlois' handover to the International Red Cross, a delegate of the French government and former Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba, who has brokered more than two dozen such releases since 2008.
Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon told The Associated Press that the military would suspend operations in the handover zone for 48 hours beginning Tuesday at 6 p.m.
The FARC, which took up arms in 1964 and which authorities say funds itself largely through the cocaine trade, announced in February that it was ending ransom kidnapping as a good-faith gesture in hopes of launching peace talks.
It released last month what it called its last "political prisoners," 10 soldiers and police it had held for as long as 14 years.
Independent journalist Karl Penhaul contributed to this report from the jungles of southern Colombia.