French Journalist to Be Released by Colombian Rebels

  • by Constanza Vieira (bogotÁ)
  • Monday, May 28, 2012
  • Inter Press Service

On Monday, Venezuelan TV channel Telesur broadcast a video proving that Langlois was alive. In the footage he appears well, although tired, and he has a bandaged arm.

The FARC set Wednesday as the day they would release the correspondent for France 24 television, who has lived in Colombia for 12 years, and who gave himself up to the guerrillas in the midst of a firefight on Apr. 28.

The insurgents said they would hand Langlois over to a humanitarian mission that must include a delegate representing French President François Hollande and former Liberal Party Senator Piedad Córdoba.

Córdoba is head of Colombians for Peace, a civil society organisation that since 2008 has achieved the release of 30 civilian and military hostages held by the FARC, as well as the rebel group’s pledge to stop kidnapping people for ransom.

The draft security protocol for the release was discussed Sunday May 27 by deputy Defence Minister Jorge Enrique Bedoya, the French ambassador to Colombia, Pierre-Jean Vandoorne, and the head of the Colombian delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Jordi Raich.

After consultations with two Colombians for Peace delegates, the draft text was published 'for the consideration of the FARC' at 22:30 local time Sunday in the hope that the guerrillas will approve the protocol so that the operation will go smoothly.

'On Tuesday May 29, by 1:00 p.m. (18:00 GMT) at the latest, the approximate release location should be communicated to the humanitarian mission,' Raich announced to journalists.

The area envisaged is 20 km by 20 km, the size of an entire municipality.

As soon as the FARC provide this information, 'starting at 18:00 (23:00 GMT) on Tuesday, military operations (in the release area) will be suspended until May 31 at 06:00 (11:00 GMT),' Raich told reporters.

He said 'the second important deadline is May 30 at 07:00 (12:00 GMT), by which time we must be told the exact spot where the release will take place.'

'In order to guarantee the security of all participants in the release operation, the Defence Ministry will suspend all military and police operations in the municipality or area specified,' says the draft 11-point protocol.

All troop movements on land, rivers and by air are to be suspended, and the police may act in urban areas only to maintain order.

The protocol also suspends 'flyovers by military and civilian aircraft in the geographical area' of the handover, and expressly prohibits planes from circling the area.

The handover will be coordinated by the ICRC using its own land and river transport vehicles, identified with the Red Cross emblem.

On this occasion no help has been requested from Brazil, which in previous release operations has provided military helicopters and pilots. 'We do not feel it is necessary, because the area is one that the ICRC visits frequently, overland or by river,' Raich explained. 'And it would greatly delay the operation.'

The ICRC said it is 'making headway on all the logistical steps, and working with all parties so that Langlois' release can happen on the announced date.'

On his second day in office as president, Hollande named his personal envoy to attend the release of Langlois. His identity is not yet known, but 'he will be on time,' Ambassador Vandoorne told reporters Sunday night.

'I know him personally. He is fluent in Spanish and is familiar with the country,' he added.

It is not Noël Saiz, Vandoorne told IPS, who asked him about the French envoy sent on missions between 2004 and 2008, together with Swiss national Jean-Pierre Gontard, to seek freedom for then presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian citizen.

Betancourt was freed in the Colombian army's 'Operation Jaque' in July 2008, which disguised itself as a fake humanitarian mission that illegally used the ICRC emblem and involved troops impersonating journalists.

During other release operations, intelligence aircraft have circled the places where FARC guerrillas were taking their hostages.

It is unusual for the ICRC to publish, as it has now, the text of a memorandum of understanding for the security and coordination protocol for a handover.

This 'has been done when there has been a specific request, as with the last two releases,' said María Cristina Rivera of the ICRC. 'In this case, it is because the deadlines are tight,' she told IPS.

The last two releases of FARC captives were on Feb. 11-16, 2011 and Apr. 2, 2012, both mediated by Colombians for Peace.

A local lawmaker, six soldiers and eight members of the police were freed on those occasions. Several of the members of the security forces had spent more than a decade in FARC's jungle prisons.

Rivera said the memorandum of understanding 'is an agreement with the Defence Ministry,' and was made public 'because it deals with security matters that concern the other party' in the release process.

In this case, the agreement is between the Colombian authorities, army and police and the French government and ICRC.

Langlois fell into the hands of the FARC on Apr. 28, when the military helicopter he was riding in to cover an anti-drug operation was attacked by rebels in the southern province of Caquetá.

The journalist was 'lightly wounded' according to the FARC, who said they had tended his wounds.

At the time of the attack, Langlois was wearing a bullet-proof jacket and a military helmet issued to him by the army. This put him in a compromising position with the FARC, who apparently took him for a U.S. military adviser.

The local FARC unit, Front 15, declared at first that he was a 'prisoner of war.'

According to soldiers who survived the attack, in the middle of the battle Langlois removed his jacket and helmet, identified himself as a journalist and surrendered to the rebels.

© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

Where next?