A French journalist freed by leftist rebels on Wednesday said he had no complaints about his captivity other than its 33-day duration and lamented that Colombia’s war is an “invisible conflict” where the poor kill the poor.
Romeo Langlois said he was not embittered, but he criticized the rebels for using his capture for propaganda purposes. They freed him on their movement’s 48th anniversary on a specially built stage, hanging pro-peace banners in this remote southern hamlet and organizing a barbecue.
However, the rebels and the 2,000 people they convened for the handover to a humanitarian commission coordinated by the International Red Cross applauded vigorously when Langlois said he appreciated how the guerrillas “live in the mud and risk their lives.”
“They never tied me up,” Langlois, 35, said of his Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) captors. “They always treated me as a guest. They gave me good food ... They were always respectful.”
Langlos was on assignment for France24 television when captured and has contributed to the newspaper Le Figaro.
It was not immediately known if Langlois, a bachelor who has lived in Colombia for more than a decade, would fly to France to be reunited with his parents.
The FARC gave him a letter for French President Francois Hollande.
Langlois made no apologies for accompanying the military. The rebels criticized him in a communique early last month for lending himself to government propaganda by doing so.
“I hope the army does not stop taking people to conflict zones and let’s hope the rebels also take journalists with them to show the daily life of their combatants because this conflict isn’t being covered,” Langlois said.
Three soldiers and a police -officer were killed in the morning-long firefight that saw Langlois captured.
The delegation that received Langlois included French diplomat Jean-Baptiste Chauvin, former Colombian senator Piedad Cordoba and the Red Cross country chief Jordi Raich.
Residents of San Isidro, which lacks running water and electricity and who live off cattle and coca, slaughtered six calves for the occasion and rebel commanders gave brief speeches, expressing their desire for peace.
Communal leaders complained of the state’s absence: the lack of healthcare and poor roads that prevent them from getting their crops to market.
Political analyst Alejandro Vargas said Wednesday’s event was remarkable because Colombians see the FARC so rarely these days, the US-backed military having increasingly driven the rebels into the country’s backwaters and across the border into Venezuela and Ecuador.
“I would think that for the average citizen it doesn’t have much relevance,” he said. “In an armed conflict both parties take whatever opportunity they can to make propaganda and demean the other.”
The government of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who had from the start demanded Langlois’ release, did not immediately comment.
However, former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, was among Colombians displeased by the rebel spectacle and suggested Langlois is a guerrilla sympathizer.
“Langlois: journalistic curiosity is one thing, identification with -terrorism another,” he said via Twitter. “What relation do you have with the FARC?”
Colombia’s government suspended military operations in the handover zone for a 48-hour period that ended at 6pm yesterday.