Colombia's 'red zone' ensnares French journalist

Between the Andes and the Amazon jungle, in a rebel stronghold called "the red zone," French journalist Romeo Langlois has become ensnared in Latin America's oldest armed conflict.

Everyone in this municipality has heard of Langlois and how he was captured by Colombia's leftist FARC guerrillas April 28 during a firefight that broke out while he was on a reporting assignment with a Colombian army unit.

"Here appearances are deceptive. It looks like a paradise and all of a sudden it becomes a hell. The guerrillas are always a threat. Unfortunately this reporter found out the hard way," said Roosbelt Figueroa, a 39-year-old farmer, on a dirt road that rain has turned to mud.

Ten years ago, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which was set up in 1964, forced 90 families to flee the nearby village of Triunfo, not far from where the clash occurred that ended in Langlois's capture. Today only five families live there.

"You French are unlucky," said an inhabitant of Union Peneya, the nearest village to the clash, alluding to the kidnapping of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt in 2002.

A dual French-Colombian citizen, Betancourt was kidnapped some kilometers from Union Peneya and held hostage for more than six years by the FARC.

The FARC's Front 15, a group of about 300 fighters supported by an estimated 2,000 non-combatants, claimed responsibility for Langlois's capture, and said they were holding him as a "prisoner of war."

His capture has not been confirmed by the FARC's high command, but a top Colombian army commander said while the army could not vouch for the authenticity of the rebel claim, "it's the most credible version."

"If Romeo is not with us, or in a hospital and we haven't recovered his body, that means that they are holding him," said General Javier Rey, the commander of the army's aviation wing.

The 35-year-old journalist, who was working on a report for France 24 television, had previously reported extensively on the armed conflict in Colombia.

"He's an impetuous boy who wanted to show the true face of the FARC and that it no longer has anything to do with communism. He's paying for it now," said Rey, who authorized Langlois's embedding in the military patrol that came under attack.

Rey said Langlois was with about 30 soldiers who were left by helicopters at a large supply center at dawn near Union Peneya after dismantling a cocaine refining lab in the jungle.

Surprised by their arrival, a force of about 200 guerrillas attacked, setting off the firefight.

"The two soldiers protecting Romeo were killed. After six hours of shooting, from 10 meters apart, he got up and surrendered," said Rey, adding that bad weather prevented the army from sending in reinforcements to drive off the attackers.

Even for a well-equipped division with 7,000 soldiers, the rainy season complicates operations in this hilly region with roads so poor that it can take an hour to travel 10 kilometers (six miles).

To encourage the guerrillas to release the journalist, the army on Wednesday suspended military operations in the area, which doesn't sit well with all soldiers.

"It makes it more complicated for us, and they are taking advantage of it," said a soldier at a checkpoint.

But most of the region's inhabitants said they felt sorry for the French journalist. Jorge Antonio Vallejo, a 35-year-old cattleman, said: "Weapons rule here, and they rule badly. But Romeo was unarmed and he did not deserve to lose his freedom."

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Indonesia informs convicts of execution, Frenchman excluded
    Indonesia informs convicts of execution, Frenchman excluded

    Indonesia said Saturday it has officially notified eight foreign drug convicts that they will be executed, but a Frenchman was granted a temporary reprieve after Paris stepped up pressure on Jakarta. The eight -- from Australia, Brazil, Nigeria and the Philippines -- have been transported to the high-security prison island of Nusakambangan where they will face the firing squad along with an Indonesian prisoner, despite strident international criticism. "Today, just now, we just finished …

  • Double Celebration
    Double Celebration

    Ropali Corporation, one of the top multi-brand motorcycle dealers in the Philippines, now holds two Guinness World Records. In the span of four days, Ropali Corporation broke two records, namely: The Largest Parade of Motorcycles with Sidecars and The Largest Simultaneous Motorcycle Burnout. As such, it also became the first motorcycle dealer in the Philippines to become a two-time Guinness World Record holder. The record for The Largest Parade of Motorcycles with Sidecars was previously …

  • United States seeks access to Philippine bases as part of Asia pivot
    United States seeks access to Philippine bases as part of Asia pivot

    The United States has asked for access to Philippine military bases in eight locations to rotate troops, aircraft, and ships as Washington shifts its forces to Asia and as China expands its military presence in the South China Sea. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in a speech in Arizona, has outlined Washington's next phase in its Asia "pivot", deploying its most sophisticated destroyers, bombers and fighters to the region. The Asia "pivot" has already seen U.S. Marines rotating through the …

  • China's island-building to loom large at SE Asia summit
    China's island-building to loom large at SE Asia summit

    China's creation of new island footholds in contested seas will hover over a Southeast Asian summit that has become an annual test of the region's nerve in standing up to its massive neighbour. The South China Sea hot potato drops this year into Malaysia's lap as the rotating chair of the 10 member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and host of Monday's meeting. ASEAN states Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the strategic South China Sea, but Beijing …

  • Philippines, China trade accusations over sea threats

    MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines accused China of aggressive maneuvers against its reconnaissance plane and fishermen in disputed seas where Beijing has stepped up construction of artificial islands, but China reiterated its claim on the strategic waterways. …

  • Indonesia orders execution of Mary Jane, 9 others
    Indonesia orders execution of Mary Jane, 9 others

    Indonesia has ordered preparations for the execution of 10 drug convicts, including Filipina Mary Jane Veloso, as the Philippine government filed yesterday a second appeal for judicial review of the case to save the maid from death by firing squad. The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) of Indonesia released an official letter dated April 23, instructing prosecutors to prepare for the execution of 10 convicts, the Jakarta Post reported yesterday. The execution would be conducted after the …

  • Business groups back K to 12 program
    Business groups back K to 12 program

    The government’s K to 12 program adding two more years to basic education received support from various business groups yesterday. However, they urged relevant government agencies to deal with issues regarding the implementation of Republic Act 10533, the Enhanced Basic Education Act or K-12 Law. In a statement, business groups led by the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) said RA 10533 is a milestone piece of legislation that intends to bring the Philippines up to par with the rest of …

  • Happiest nations: Phl ranks 90th
    Happiest nations: Phl ranks 90th

    Switzerland is the happiest country in the world, while the Philippines placed 90th, according to a global ranking of happiness unveiled in New York on Thursday. Switzerland was followed closely by Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada. The 2015 World Happiness Report is the third annual report seeking to quantify happiness as a means of influencing government policy. The United Nations published the first study in 2012. …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options