BOGOTA -- Nursing a bullet wound but looking healthy, French reporter Romeo Langlois emerged from the jungles of southern Colombia on Wednesday after being held 33 days by the nation’s largest rebel group.
Released to an international delegation and brought to the village of San Isidro in the department of Caqueta, Langlois, 35, said the guerrillas shared what little food they had and treated him with respect.
“Other than being detained for a month while I was wounded, everything was good,” he told Venezuela’s TeleSur, which broadcast his release. “They never tied me up … They always treated me like a guest.”
A longtime conflict reporter in Colombia, Langlois was embedded with a counter-narcotics force when it was ambushed April 28 by the 15th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. In the ensuing firefight, four security forces were killed and Langlois was shot in the left arm. According to reports, that’s when he stripped off his military-issued helmet and flak jacket and surrendered to the rebels.
His release Wednesday in San Isidro turned into something of a rally as Langlois shared a wooden stage with the local FARC commander and villagers who blamed the government for neglecting the region. An unidentified member of the community council called on the administration to provide water, electricity and suitable roads to the village. He also said that famers grew coca plants — the precursor to cocaine — because they had no other alternative.
Wearing a long sleeve shirt and seemingly unfazed by his wound, Langlois lamented that Colombia’s civil conflict is being underreported and said the administration can no longer sweep the violence under the rug.
“The government has sold the idea that this conflict was almost over, that there were just a few hot zones left. That has always been false,” he said to a cheering crowd. “The fact that they had to hold an independent journalist for 33 days to remind people of the situation, shows how tremendously degraded the conflict has become.”
San Isidro sits near a FARC stronghold and close to where Langlois had been picked up. Hundreds had gathered in the village for his release.
“War is something we experience almost every day,” Village council leader German Pena told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “There have been innumerable battles in this area. We’ve seen bullets flying on the main street of the village.”
Colombia has been fighting the FARC and other groups for almost a half century. Violence peaked in the 1990s and 2000s, but the government has won praise for bringing down the homicide rate by 50 percent over the last decade and making serious inroads against the rebels. Even so, the government has been fighting perceptions that violence is on the uptick again.
Last week, the FARC killed 12 soldiers in the northern Guajira province before taking refuge in Venezuela. Earlier this month, the group is suspected of staging a brazen daytime bombing in the capital that wounded a former minister of interior and killed two of his bodyguards.
While President Juan Manuel Santos has said he’s open to peace talks with the group, the outbreaks have had him on the defensive.
Langlois’ detention marked the first time since 2003 that a foreign journalist had been held by rebels. The Foundation for Press Freedom said it had no record of any other foreign journalist being held for this long. His detention also came just weeks after the FARC announced they would no longer kidnap for ransom.