Colombian guerrillas say French journalist is prisoner of war

Sun May 6, 2012 2:09pm EDT

* Guerrilla says reporter hurt in one arm, out of danger

* FARC vowed in February not to kidnap for ransom

By Eduardo Garcia and Luis Jaime Acosta

BOGOTA, May 6 (Reuters) - Colombia's drug-funded FARC rebel group on Sunday confirmed it is holding a French journalist and said minor injuries he sustained when he was captured are not life threatening.

Romeo Langlois, a freelance reporter for news channel France 24, went missing last week after being caught in crossfire between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and government troops carrying out an anti-drug raid in Caqueta, a jungle region in the South.

"The French journalist Romeo Langlois was captured at the heat of the battle wearing an army uniform, he's in our hands, is a prisoner of war," a guerrilla leader who identified himself as Ancizar, alias "Monaso," said in a video posted in YouTube.

"He's slightly injured in one arm. He has received the required medical attention and is out of danger," said Ancizar, who was dressed in military fatigues and had what appeared to be a machine gun hanging from his shoulder.

The video showed Ancizar reading a statement while about 10 heavily armed guerrilla fighters, including several women, stood in the background.

While the FARC has kidnapped thousands of people since it was created in 1964, in February the group said it would stop taking hostages for ransom to pay for weapons, uniforms or food.

It did not say, however, that it would stop kidnapping for so-called political means to pressure the government.

Ancizar said the FARC was aware that Langlois was a French journalist and that the armed group hoped to "overcome this impasse soon."

Over the past five decades, the FARC has morphed from a Marx-inspired group of peasant guerrillas into a multi-million dollar criminal group that funds its war with the government through kidnapping, extortion and drug trafficking.

While more than a decade of a U.S.-backed offensive has reduced its funding and halved its ranks, the group remains a formidable force, able to attack civilian and military targets as well as oil and mining projects.

Langlois was reporting a news story alongside an anti-narcotics patrol when they were attacked by dozens of heavily armed FARC rebels protecting hidden cocaine laboratories.

As the fighting broke out, Langlois removed his bulletproof vest and helmet and ran toward the rebels, who were dressed in civilian clothes, possibly in an attempt to prove he was not a member of the armed forces, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon told reporters earlier this week.

President Juan Manuel Santos on Monday called on the FARC to free Langlois as quickly as possible.

Santos has said he remains open to peace talks only if the group ceases all attacks against civilian and military targets and stops kidnapping. The FARC is classified as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.

The last French citizen held by the FARC was dual-national politician Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped in 2002 and rescued by Colombian soldiers in 2008.

The FARC is still believed to be holding as many as 700 civilian hostages for ransom, but after releasing 10 members of the armed forces last month it has no politicians or public officials captive. (Writing by Eduardo Garcia; Editing by Helen Murphy and Cynthia Osterman)

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