BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia on Tuesday rejected a call by FARC rebels todebate freedom of information and news media bias as a conditionfor the release of a French reporter they hold hostage. Heavily armed members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombiakidnapped Romeo Langlois, a reporter for France 24, during a clashwith troops carrying out an anti-drug raid in Caqueta, arebel-stronghold in the south. The group on Monday accused the Colombian government ofmanipulating journalists to bend public opinion against them andsaid that before they consider releasing Langlois there needs to bea debate on freedom of information. "This criminal organization carries out terrorist attacks, isinvolved in drug trafficking, recruits underage kids and isinvolved in countless crimes, among them the execution of their ownmembers. |
... They cannot impose conditions of any kind," DefenseMinister Juan Carlos Pinzon told reporters. "No way will we engage in any kind of debate. ..
They must freehim as soon as possible." The FARC started as a Marxist peasant movement in the 1960s andlater turned to kidnapping, extortion and drug trafficking. TheEuropean Union and the United States have labeled the FARC aterrorist group. Faced with the choice of unemployment or grueling and tedious farmwork, many youngsters in remote rural areas voluntarily join theFARC ranks every year, but rebels sometimes kidnap children andforce them to join their armed struggle. KIDNAPPED WHILE REPORTING Langlois was reporting alongside Colombian troops on April 28 whenhe was taken hostage.
Several rights organizations have called forhis immediate release. "Langlois must be released immediately without any conditions andmeasures should be taken to ensure that all journalists in Colombiacan carry out their work freely," Amnesty International said in astatement on Tuesday. In a video posted on YouTube on Sunday the FARC said it is holdingLanglois hostage as "a prisoner of war." "They can't call him a prisoner of war. ... He's a civilian, acitizen, a journalist.
He was doing his job," Pinzon said. In February the group said it would stop taking hostages for ransomto pay for weapons, uniforms or food. It did not say, however, thatit would stop kidnapping for so-called political means to pressurethe government. (Writing by Eduardo Garcia; editing by Todd Eastham ).
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