Colombia rebels set to release French reporter - Red Cross

Sun May 13, 2012 10:35pm EDT

* Frenchman was kidnapped while reporting with troops

* FARC calls for committee to discuss release

By Eduardo Garcia and Luis Jaime Acosta

BOGOTA, May 13 (Reuters) - Colombia's FARC guerrilla group has decided to free a French reporter they kidnapped two weeks ago, although they have not given a date for his release, a Red Cross official said on Sunday citing a statement from the rebels.

Heavily armed members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia kidnapped Romeo Langlois, a reporter for France 24, during a firefight with troops carrying out an anti-drug raid in Caqueta, a rebel-stronghold in the south.

"The ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) has received a statement from the FARC in which they say they have decided to release Romeo Langlois," ICRC official Daniel Munoz told reporters.

Munoz said the statement did not mention a date for Langlois' release, but that the FARC has called for the mediation of a committee formed by an envoy from the French government, an ICRC representative and activist and former Senator Piedad Cordoba, who would discuss the terms for the Frenchman's release with the rebels.

Munoz said the ICRC has been informed that Langlois is in good health, despite a wound he sustained in his left arm when he was kidnapped on April 28.

The group on Monday accused the Colombian government of manipulating journalists to bend public opinion against them and called for a debate on freedom of information as a condition for Langlois' release.

President Juan Manuel Santos has repeatedly demanded Langlois' liberation, but his defense minister on Tuesday said they were not going to negotiate with "terrorists."

The FARC started as a Marxist peasant movement in the 1960s and later turned to kidnapping, extortion and drug trafficking. The European Union and the United States have labeled the FARC a terrorist group.

Following a U.S.-sponsored crackdown, the FARC has lost steam in recent years. Several top commanders have been killed and its fighting force is said to be dwindling.

However, the drug-funded group is still a force in remote jungle areas, and has carried out a string of attacks on oil and mining projects in recent months.

Many youngsters in rural areas, where unemployment is high, voluntarily join the FARC ranks every year, but rebels sometimes kidnap children and force them to join their armed struggle.

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. (Writing by Eduardo Garcia; Editing by Stacey Joyce)

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