Fate of missing French journalist unclear, caution urged

Uncertainty surround’s French freelance journalist Roméo Langlois’ fate after a shootout on 28 April in the southern department of Colombia between the detachment of security forces he was accompanying and leftist guerrillas belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Langlois is stringer for the French news TV channel France 24.
The Colombian authorities described him as “missing,” although yesterday they called on the FARC rebels not to harm him “in the event that they are holding him.” Yesterday, the French foreign ministry said he had been kidnapped by the FARC although foreign minister Alain Juppé admitted today the French authorities were not absolutely sure of this.
“It is clear from the speculation and changing stories that reliable information about Langlois’ fate is lacking,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Under these circumstances, information needs to be treated with the utmost care. The war of words and half-truths is an intrinsic part of the Colombian civil war, and the consequences can be dangerous for its victims. The search for the facts must continue and no statement liable to expose Langlois to more danger should be made until the exact situation has been established.”
Langlois was accompanying a detachment of 24 soldiers led by three members of the judicial police on an operation, dubbed “Alquimia” (Alchemy), that was supposed to find and destroy clandestine cocaine laboratories.
He has been missing ever since a shootout on 28 April with what the government describes as a group of about 100 FARC guerrillas. The sergeant assigned to protecting Langlois was killed in the shootout. Five other soldiers initially reporting missing have all been found alive.
Reporters Without Borders has been told by Simone Bruno, an Italian journalist in Caquetá who also works for France 24, that Langlois removed his helmet and bullet-proof vest during the shootout in order to be identifiable as a civilian. Bruno also said that the security procedures established prior to the operation included regular communication with Langlois’ family and diplomatic representatives. Bad weather grounded two helicopters that should have provided the detachment with cover.
Last night, Bruno and two other journalists went to the departmental capital of Florencia with the aim of recovering Langlois’ personal effects and equipment. We hope that he will be able to obtain recordings made by Langlois on 28 April that will provide more information about the attack. Bruno has told us he will not leave the area until Langlois’ fate is definitely established.
Langlois has been praised for his coverage of the civil war, which has gone on for more than half a century. Although weakened by the deaths of their leading commanders (Manuel Marulanda and Raúl Reyes) and by recent desertions, the FARC continue to control territory. At the start of this year, the rebels announced that they would no longer hold any civilians hostage.
One of the western hemisphere’s most dangerous countries for the media, Colombia holds the record for the number of journalists who have had to flee their region or flee the country, and for the number of journalists who have been threatened by paramilitary groups, other armed groups, drug trafficker or officials with links to drug trafficking.