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French journalist kidnapped in Colombia

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A French journalist who disappeared in southern Colombia during combat between government troops and leftist rebels was kidnapped, the French government has said.

Romeo Langlois, 35, had been accompanying troops on a counterdrug mission in Caqueta state on Saturday.

"The journalist was taken prisoner" during the clash, France's foreign minister Alain Juppe, was quoted as saying by his press office on Sunday.

A ministry spokesman, Romain Nadal, offered no details about who was holding Langlois or whether the hostage-takers were in contact with French or Colombian authorities.

"We remain very cautious in all hostage cases, for security reasons," he said.

Three soldiers and a police officer were killed in Saturday's combat, Colombian officials said. The defence ministry said four soldiers and a police officer, previously unaccounted for, had later reappeared, two of them wounded.

Langlois is a freelancer with years of experience in the region who was on assignment for France 24 television, the news channel said in a statement.

Calls by The Associated Press news agency to his cell phone went unanswered.

In all, six troops were wounded in "heavy combat" with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, during an operation by counter narcotics troops that destroyed five cocaine processing labs, the defence ministry said.

Langlois is a Colombia resident, and the ministry identified him as a "war correspondent". It did not say when the counterdrug mission began.

The combat occurred in the hamlet of Buena Vista in the municipality of Montanita. France 24 said the group was attacked on Saturday morning.

"We know that it is a dangerous region. We are of course worried, but we trust Romeo, who knows the area well and has a lot of experience. We hope that he is safe and sound," Nahida Nakad, chief international news editor for the network, said in the statement.

The French government was in contact with Langlois' family, a French foreign ministry official said. The official was not authorised to be publicly named according to ministry policy.

Langlois has also written for the daily Le Figaro. His most recent article, published April 20, profiled a former child soldier for the FARC who later deserted.

The FARC, founded in 1964, is Latin America's last remaining major insurgency. Funded largely by the cocaine trade, it has in recent years been seriously weakened by Colombia's US-backed military. It is believed to number about 8,000 fighters.

The FARC released earlier this month 10 soldiers and police who it said were its last remaining "political prisoners".

It has pledged to halt ransom kidnapping as a good-faith gesture it hopes will presage peace talks. But President Juan Manuel Santos has said he is not yet satisfied that the FARC has met conditions for such talks.

The rebels have been blamed for the kidnapping last June of four Chinese oil workers in the same southern state where Saturday's incident occurred.

The last known instance of a foreign journalist being detained by rebels in Colombia was in 2003, when two journalists on assignment for the Los Angeles Times were held for 12 days before being released unharmed.


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