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Colombian rebels free French journalist

From the CNN Wire Staff
May 31, 2012 -- Updated 1016 GMT (1816 HKT)
French journalist Romeo Langlois was captured last month by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
French journalist Romeo Langlois was captured last month by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • French journalist Romeo Langlois boards a plane for the capital
  • Langlois is in good health, the Red Cross says
  • A former Colombian president criticizes Romeo Langlois
  • France 24 CEO: "The release of Romeo is a great relief"

(CNN) -- Rebels in Colombia released French journalist Romeo Langlois on Wednesday, a move that came after negotiations involving government officials and the Red Cross.

Langlois arrived in a Red Cross convoy at an airport in Florencia late Wednesday, before he was quickly whisked away in plane headed for the capital, Bogota.

" I always knew that I was going to get out of this pretty quickly, (but I) did not think it would last as long (as it did)," he told reporters after more than a month in captivity. "I have been very well treated. I have received apologies from the guerrillas for having declared me a prisoner of war, for having withheld me for so long."

Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, hoped the release would mark the "definitive end of the practice of kidnapping pledged by the FARC."

"The High Representative reiterates her call for all the hostages still held captive to be freed immediately and without conditions," her office said in a statement.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, kidnapped Langlois more than a month ago when he was reporting alongside soldiers during a military operation.

Langlois, a war journalist for the international news channel France 24 with more than 10 years of experience in Colombia, was in good health after his release Wednesday, Red Cross spokeswoman Tatiana Flores told CNN affiliate Caracol. He was expected to arrive in the Colombian city of Florencia on Wednesday night, she said.

"The release of Romeo is a great relief. ... I also note that the FARC has kept its word. We share the happiness of his family, friends and relatives," said Alain de Pouzilhac, CEO of France 24.

Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, known for cracking down on the rebels, questioned the French journalist's motives in a Twitter post Wednesday.

"Langlois: one thing is journalistic curiosity and another is identifying with terrorism," he wrote in a Twitter post.

Over the course of the French journalist's captivity, a series of statements purportedly from the FARC have criticized media coverage in the country. One statement claimed that any journalists embedded with Colombian troops have been painting a biased picture.

A video released over the weekend showed the veteran journalist receiving treatment for an arm wound and talking about his experience reporting on the conflict in Colombia.

"I cover both sides, seeking the opinion of everyone," he said.

CNN could not confirm the authenticity of the video, which gave no indication of when it was shot.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday that Langlois' captivity had "signaled a significant setback for press freedom in Colombia."

"We urge the FARC to end the unacceptable practice of taking journalists hostage, thus depriving Colombian citizens of vital, independent information about the civil conflict," the statement said.

Colombian troops ceased all military operations in part of the country ahead of Langlois' release Wednesday.

The cease-fire and other safeguards for the FARC were set out in a document signed Sunday by an International Committee of the Red Cross representative in Colombia, Jordi Raich, along with Colombian Deputy Defense Minister Jorge Bedoya and French Ambassador Pierre-Jean Vandoorne.

The cease-fire in the Caqueta area will last until early Thursday.

FARC had announced over the weekend that it would release Langlois on Wednesday.

Statement: FARC to release Langlois

The rebel group has been at war with the government since the 1960s, making the insurgency Latin American's oldest.

While severely weakened in recent years, FARC continues to carry out kidnappings and attack security forces.

This spring, the group freed the last of 10 government hostages after holding them for more than a decade.

In February, FARC said it would also stop kidnapping civilians for money. It did not address the fate of its civilian captives, nor did the group renounce kidnapping for political purposes.

Hundreds of civilians remain prisoners of the guerrilla group throughout Colombia, according to the nonprofit Free Country Foundation.

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