FARC rebels in Colombia to free French hostage

Marxist rebels holding French journalist Romeo Langlois hostage for almost a month said Sunday they will free him, according to a Red Cross official.

"We have received the statement directly from the group... We are pleased with the announcement of the (planned) release, and we are ready to help organize the operation anywhere and as soon as possible," said Jordi Raich, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Colombia.

Raich said the group indicated it was prepared to free the Frenchman in a demobilized area to a group that would include ICRC representatives, an envoy of French president-elect Francois Hollande and former senator and mediator Piedad Cordoba.

"When we get word on the place and time, we can travel by road or river anywhere, as we have done many times," Raich said.

Langlois, 35, was accompanying soldiers who destroyed five cocaine production labs in southern Colombia when a firefight broke out April 28 and he was captured by rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The FARC rebels have called Langlois a "prisoner of war" because he had been wearing a military helmet and flak jacket when he went missing.

At war with the Colombian government since 1964, the guerrilla group is believed to have some 9,000 fighters in mountainous and jungle areas, according to government estimates.

Successful government strikes have weakened the FARC in the past years, but the rate of the guerrilla attacks has recently been on the rise.

In February, the group publicly announced it would abandon kidnapping for ransom. It released its last military and police hostages in early April.

Olga Gomez, president of the Free Country Foundation, however estimates the FARC is holding more than 400 civilians hostage. The FARC says the foundation's numbers are false and biased, but has released no figures of its own.

The last French national held by the FARC was Ingrid Betancourt, a former Colombian senator and presidential candidate. She was abducted during her presidential campaign in February 2002, along with her assistant, Clara Rojas.

Betancourt and 14 other hostages -- including three US military contractors -- were freed in an operation by the Colombian military in July 2008.

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