Bogota: Colombia`s FARC rebels said they are prepared to release a French journalist they have been holding since April 28 only in the context of a debate on the role of the press in covering the Andean nation`s decades-long armed conflict.
The offer to free Romeo Langlois was included in a message dated May 3 and posted Monday on the web site of the Sweden-based alternative news agency Anncol, known as a conduit for communications from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
"Romeo Langlois wore regular-army military garb in the middle of a battle. We believe the least that can be expected for the full recovery of his freedom is the opening of a broad national and international debate on the freedom of information," the FARC said.
"The journalists the Colombian armed forces bring on their military operations do not fulfill the impartial proposition of reporting about reality, but rather that of manipulating," the insurgent high command said.
How would Colombian authorities treat a journalist accompanying the FARC if he or she were captured by the army in the wake of a clash, the guerrillas asked rhetorically.
"The Colombian regime murders, threatens, jails or exiles the domestic and international journalists who try to investigate or report the non-official account of the conflict. The cases are well-known and too many to list," the FARC said.
Langlois was wounded in the arm but "is in good health", a FARC commander said in a video posted Sunday on the Internet.
The guerrilla chief, who appears in the jungle with other rebels, says the FARC`s 15th Front fought the armed forces for seven hours April 28 near a village located in the southern province of Caqueta.
Langlois, the Colombia-based correspondent for global TV network France 24 and Paris daily Le Figaro, was captured "wearing a military uniform", the commander said.
The French journalist went missing amid fighting between the rebels and soldiers conducting an anti-drug operation in the jungles of Caqueta around La Libertad de la Union Peneya, located about 600 km from Bogota.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has called on the rebels to release Langlois "immediately and unconditionally".
"FARC must immediately release Langlois and return him to safety," Carlos Lauria, CPJ`s senior program coordinator for the Americas, said last Tuesday.
"Under international law, journalists must be treated as non-combatants by all parties in an armed conflict," Lauria said.
Founded in 1964, the FARC has suffered a series of reverses in recent years, but it still has an estimated 8,000 fighters and operates across a large swath of the Andean nation.