PARIS/BOGOTA (Reuters) - France on Monday said it held FARC rebels responsible for the life of a French journalist in Colombia, calling on the drug-funded group to release him immediately in line with a pledge it made to stop taking hostages for ransom.
France believes Romeo Langlois, a freelance reporter for French news channel France 24, was taken captive by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia after being caught in crossfire between the Marxist guerrillas and government troops.
“We have indicated to the FARC that they are responsible for his life,” Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters on Monday.
Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said there are “indications” the FARC are holding him.
Langlois was reporting a news story alongside an anti-narcotics patrol in the southern jungles of Caqueta on Saturday when they were attacked by dozens of FARC rebels protecting hidden cocaine laboratories. During the attack, he was wounded on his left arm, officials said.
His disappearance will refocus attention on the FARC after its release this month of 10 members of the armed forces who had been held hostage in camps for more than a decade.
While the FARC has kidnapped thousands of Colombians over the past five decades, the group in February said it would no longer take 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. The FARC is classified as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.
Santos on Monday called on the FARC to free him.
“The FARC promised the country a few weeks ago it would stop kidnapping; we received that announcement with satisfaction, we said it was a gesture that we valued, that it was a gesture that took the road to peace,” Santos told reporters.
“We ask the FARC to free him 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.
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.
There would be no attempt to rescue Langlois, if the FARC holds him, without first consulting the French government, Pinzon said.
“There are military operations in the area, but we aren’t planning any rescue because we don’t know where the journalist is,” Pinzon said.
“At the moment we know what happened, we will talk to the French government.”
Juppe said this was an opportunity for the rebel group to prove its pledge to cease kidnapping for ransom. He called on them to immediately release Langlois.
The last French citizen held by the FARC was dual-national Ingrid Betancourt, kidnapped in 2002. Colombian soldiers rescued her in 2008.
France 24 said the head of its international arm and one of its journalists specialized in Colombia would travel to Bogota on Monday to liaise with local authorities.
The insurgent group has made peace gestures in recent months as a U.S.-backed offensive batters its front lines, halving its fighting force and killing top commanders.
The International Committee of the Red Cross told Reuters it is worried about Langlois and willing to help in any process to free him. The group has not been contacted by the FARC, according to a Red Cross official who asked not to be named.
Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Eric Walsh