As the French journalist Romeo Langlois dropped down from a helicopter into the Colombian jungle alongside anti-narcotics forces on Saturday, an unfriendly group of heavily-armed guerrillas awaited them.
Langlois, a French citizen living in Colombia, was making a documentary for news channel France24 about the Colombian government’s attempts to dismantle drug labs in the jungles of Caqueta. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, earns much of its money producing coca, which thrives in the heat and humidity of southern Colombia.
A brutal firefight ensued, according to media reports, and Langlois was shot. He has since been taken hostage, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters on Sunday, according to Reuters.
Langlois, who has been in Colombia about 12 years, removed his bulletproof vest and helmet and ran toward the rebels, possibly in a bid to prove he was not a member of the armed forces, said Pinzon after speaking to one of the soldiers with the journalist.
The FARC, dressed in civilian clothes, shot at the troops from nearby houses, Pinzon said. Heavy rains in the area made it difficult for reinforcements to immediately aid the troops.
Three troops and a police officer were killed during the firefight. Five cocaine labs used to produce coca paste were destroyed. That's a small dent in an operation where one FARC division produces thousands of pounds of cocaine every week. (One pound of cocaine nets tens of of thousands of dollars on the street.) The FARC, which produces much of the world's cocaine, moves the drugs north, through Ecuador, to Mexico where they are sold to drug cartels, according to the BBC.
After the firefight, the FARC guerillas retreated into the jungle. No FARC fighters were killed.
France24 is working with officials to find Langlois and is in contact with his family.
"We know that it is a dangerous region. We are of course concerned but we trust Romeo, who knows the region well and has a lot of experience," said Nahida Nakad, head of the channel’s foreign audiovisual editorial operations, in the statement.
Langlois’ disappearance could prompt international pressure on the FARC which won some goodwill when it released 10 members of the armed forces this month after they had been held hostage in jungle camps for more than a decade, Reuters reported.
FARC, founded in 1964, is one of the last Marxist guerilla groups in the Americas, according to France24. Labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, it has relied on the drug trade and hostages to pay for weapons, food and uniforms.
One of the group’s most famous hostages was Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian politician who was held hostage for more than six years. She was released in 2008.
The FARC has made gestures toward peace in recent months, according to the BBC. The group’s leadership has also pledged to stop taking hostages for ransom.
But Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos warned there has not been enough evidence that FARC truly intends to give up on taking hostages, according to France24.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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