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Colombian president calls for French journalist's release

By the CNN Wire Staff
May 8, 2012 -- Updated 0125 GMT (0925 HKT)
In a video posted to YouTube, a man claiming to be a FARC commander read a statement confirming they abducted Romeo Langlois.
In a video posted to YouTube, a man claiming to be a FARC commander read a statement confirming they abducted Romeo Langlois.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Officials say Romeo Langlois has been missing since an April 28 rebel attack
  • Colombia's president calls on rebels to free the reporter "and simply tell us where he is"
  • Several statements surface online discussing his capture, purportedly from the rebels
  • Reporters Without Borders says it is "cautiously confident that he will be freed very soon"

(CNN) -- Colombia's president renewed calls for rebels to release a French journalist "as soon as possible" Monday as online statements purportedly from leftist guerrillas provided details about his capture.

"I am very pleased to know that the French journalist is in good condition. Now that the (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) have acknowledged that they have him, I call for them to release him as soon as possible," President Juan Manuel Santos said.

He said Colombian officials will do whatever they can to guarantee journalist Romeo Langlois' release by the rebel group, commonly known as the FARC.

"The Colombian government is willing to provide all the facilities so the release occurs as quickly as possible, but if you really want to be viewed well by the world, release him now and simply tell us where he is and we will go get him," Santos said during a state visit to Singapore.

Langlois, who works for the France 24 television network and is a war reporter with more than 10 years experience in the country, was reporting alongside soldiers when the rebel group attacked on April 28, the Colombian government has said.

The attack took place in the southern Caqueta province as soldiers worked to destroy cocaine labs.

The Colombian president's comments Monday came as several apparent statements from the rebel group surfaced online.

One statement, dated May 3 and published Sunday on a blog connected with a news agency that often publishes official statements from the FARC, criticized Langlois for wearing a military uniform and claimed that any journalists embedded with Colombian troops have been painting a biased picture.

"Romeo Langlois was wearing a military uniform of the Army in the middle of a fight. We think that the least that should be expected for the recuperation of his free mobility is the opening of a broad national and international debate about freedom of information," said the statement, which the New Colombian News Agency described as an official press release from the FARC.

The Colombian government and military officials have said that Langlois was not wearing a full military uniform, but was wearing a helmet and a protective vest.

In a YouTube video posted over the weekend, a man in military fatigues claiming to be a local FARC commander described Langlois as a "prisoner of war" and also said Langlois had been "uniformed as a soldier and captured in plain combat."

In that statement, the purported FARC commander said Langlois was "lightly wounded in one arm. He has been given the necessary medical attention and is out of danger."

Another comment posted on Twitter Sunday and purporting to be from the rebel group said Langlois would be released soon "safe and sound."

CNN could not independently confirm that the statements came from the FARC rebels, whose official website is no longer accessible. The leftist guerrillas have been at war with the Colombian government since the 1960s, and are known for holding prisoners and hostages in remote jungle camps.

The statement in the YouTube video appeared to echo a statement that a woman claiming to belong to the FARC read to a group of local journalists last week.

Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom group, cited the Twitter comment in a statement Monday, saying it was "cautiously confident that he will be freed very soon."

"It is absurd that the guerrillas consider him a combatant and in the same sense a prisoner of war. What a combatant does is armed, and Romeo Langlois never had a weapon in this circumstance, and for that very reason holding him is absurd," said Ignacio Gomez, director of the Bogota-based Free Press Foundation.

France 24 reported last month that its editors were working with authorities in Colombia and France to gather information on the journalist.

"We know that it's a difficult region," said Nahida Nakad, editorial director of Audiovisuel Exterieur de la France, of which France 24 is a part, the television network reported. "Of course we are very worried, but we have every confidence in Romeo, who knows the territory very well and is an experienced journalist. We hope that he is safe and sound, and we are in constant contact with his family."

Kidnapping government forces and civilians has been a key strategy of the rebel group.

Dramatic rescues, escapes and hostage handovers have revealed harsh conditions in jungle camps, including stories of prisoners chained to trees, grueling marches between hideouts, torrential rain and blistering sun.

While severely weakened in recent years, the rebels have continued to carry out kidnappings and attack security forces.

Last month, the FARC released a group of 10 members of the military and police that it said were its last government hostages. In February, the FARC also said it would stop kidnapping civilians for money.

The rebels did not address the fate of its civilian captives then, nor did it renounce kidnapping for political purposes.

CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet and Esprit Smith in Atlanta and journalist Jorge Asdrubal Garcia Romero in Bogota contributed to this report.

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