Photo: Romeo Langlois
The International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, announced Wednesday that French war correspondent Romeo Langlois was released by the FARC guerrillas, left the village of San Isidro with the humanitarian mission that took custody of him and is en route to Florencia, the capital of Colombia’s southern Caqueta province.
ICRC spokesperson in Colombia Maria Cristina Rivera confirmed the reporter’s release to the press at the Gustavo Urtunduaga Paredes airport in Florencia, where authorities and others are awaiting in the coming hours the arrival of Langlois and the humanitarian mission that received him.
Although the handing over of Langlois to the mission took place several hours ago in San Isidro, where the FARC staged a political event, the ICRC said that it only considered that the journalist had been released at the moment he got into an ICRC vehicle and began the trip to Florencia.
The reporter, for whom Wednesday was his 33rd day in FARC captivity, will arrive in Florencia with the members of the humanitarian mission in three vehicles between 10:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. (0300 to 0330 GMT on Thursday), according to Rivera’s estimate.
From Florencia he will travel to Bogota, where on Thursday he is scheduled to hold a press conference.
The FARC had set up a large stage in the town and filmed the event, while hundreds of peasant farmers and villagers gathered there for the ceremony.
After saying that he had been “treated very well by the guerrillas during these 33 days,” the reporter confirmed that he had never been “tied up” and was given enough food, and he said that the rebels helped him carry his backpack and mattress.
“The feeling that I had is that the guerrillas wanted to hand me over, after many people began to talk (about it), the thing was politicized and they decided to postpone this a little bit,” he added.
However, Langlois, 35, went on to say: “I accept the apologies and come out of this without bitterness, but I don’t agree with this decision to hold me for 33 days.”
He justified his presence with the army and police at the time of his capture by saying that “one’s work, as a journalist, is to cover all parts of the conflict.”
He also invited other reporters to continue covering the conflict from all points of view, taking into account all the parties involved.
“They are poor people killing poor people, it’s supremely tragic. This has been going on for 40 years, there’s no good or bad, at times the press and the government have managed to sell distorted images, but when one comes into these zones one sees that the reality is more complicated,” he said.
The humanitarian mission spent more than five hours in San Isidro listening to one guerrilla apologize in the name of the FARC for having treated the journalist as a “prisoner of war” and to several peasant leaders, who complained that Caqueta is a forgotten area without a government presence except for fumigations of the coca crop, their only means of livelihood, and demanded basic services.
The committee that received Langlois is made up of three ICRC representatives, former Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba and two other members of the organization she heads Colombians for Peace (CCP) and French government emissary Jean-Baptiste Chauvin.
“Although he is wounded in one of his forearms, ... Langlois is in good general health,” said Rivera reading from a communique signed by the ICRC chief in Colombia, Spaniard Jordi Raich.
The correspondent for television channel France24 and the daily Le Figaro was accompanying a task force of Colombian police and army troops on April 28 when the contingent was ambushed by FARC units, sparking a battle that left four members of the security forces dead.
The journalist was wounded in the firefight and fled toward the rebel lines, after shedding the army helmet and bulletproof vest he was wearing.
FARC commander “Colacho Mendoza” said in a videotape released on Monday by Telesur that although Langlois had been wounded, he was recovering well, and he added that the war correspondent had turned himself over to the rebels to save his life in the midst of the firefight.
“First, he was wounded in one arm, a bullet that entered by the side of the elbow and exited ... He had lost the ability to move it and ended up surrendering to save his life,” said Mendoza.
A FARC medic treated Langlois’ wound, but the rebels then decided to hold him as a prisoner of war.
Last Sunday, the FARC announced that they would hand over the reporter to the humanitarian mission on Wednesday somewhere in Caqueta - later specifying the precise coordinates of the site - where military operations were suspended by the government to facilitate the release.