* Reporter was released in Colombia after a month
* Says guerrillas have "a parallel government"
* FARC weaker but have managed string of attacks
By Eduardo Garcia
BOGOTA, May 31 Looking relaxed and healthy after
a month in jungle captivity, French journalist Romeo Langlois
said Colombia's FARC rebel leaders may be prepared for peace
talks, but younger fighters are ready for 50 more years of war.
Langlois, 35, was released on Wednesday after being taken
hostage i n late April when the military unit he was reporting
alongside came under fire from heavily armed rebels.
Aided by billions of dollars in U.S. funding, Colombia's
armed forces have debilitated the FARC, leaving it arguably at
its weakest in almost five decades. Several top commanders have
been killed in air strikes and its fighting force has been
halved to about 8,000 fighters, the government says.
Still, Langlois, who covered Colombia's conflict for a
decade, said his hostage experience left him feeling that the
FARC remained very popular in remote areas were people live
hand-to-mouth, hospitals are few and ill-equipped, and roads are
"They are ready to continue the war for 50 more years if
they need to, until peace comes, (but) peace on their terms ...
they are really wary of the government," Langlois told reporters
gathered at the French Embassy in Bogota.
The FARC's seven-member leadership vowed in February to stop
kidnapping civilians for ransom and have made repeated signs
that they may be ready to engage in peace talks.
President Juan Manuel Santos has also showed more
willingness to talk with the rebels than his strong-arm
predecessor Alvaro Uribe, but only if they cease attacks on
civilian and military targets and free all captives.
Langlois, who received a bullet wound in his arm in the
crossfire, said even if FARC commanders want peace the younger
fighters recognize "how very, very strong they are."
"More than an armed group they are a parallel government in
the countryside," he said, adding that although he was treated
well he was moved repeatedly between different FARC units during
the month he spent in the jungle.
Langlois said many poor Colombians living in remote areas
are afraid of military patrol units and believe them to be the
real "terrorists", not the FARC.
'COMPLICATED CONFLICT '
The freelance journalist described Colombia as his home, but
said he planned to fly to France on Thursday to rest and spend
time with his family.
He was welcomed by hundreds of villagers when he was freed.
Many cheered the FARC rebels who walked with him into a jungle
hamlet in the southern Caqueta region, a rebel-stronghold.
A decade of heavy strikes against the FARC has hobbled
communication between their units and left them vulnerable to
infiltration. Some second-tier commanders have turned themselves
in to the authorities for fear of being killed by subordinates.
The FARC leadership does not have a strong grip on its foot
soldiers, who operate across jungle, plain and mountain ranges
hundreds of miles apart.
"This conflict is really complicated; those of us who cover
it have a responsibility to explain that," Langlois said.
The FARC started as a Marxist peasant movement in the 1960s
and later turned to kidnapping, extortion and drug smuggling to
finance their insurgency. The European Union and United States
have labeled the FARC a terrorist group.
Langlois declined to be drawn on the FARC's terrorist label,
saying "For me, there is neither good nor bad in this conflict."
The FARC's involvement in the cocaine trade provides the
group with funding to stay hidden and re-arm in inhospitable
areas, and some units have stepped up attacks in recent months.
The rebels are suspected of being behind a bomb attack
earlier this month against former Interior Minister Fernando
Londono in Bogota. Londono survived the blast, but his driver
and a bodyguard were killed.
FARC guerrillas also killed 12 soldiers in an ambush on an
army unit near the Venezuelan border last week, and they have
carried out a string of bomb attacks against oil infrastructure.
(Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Helen
Murphy and Daniel Wallis; Desking by Cynthia Osterman)