Reporter was treated well by Colombian rebels

French journalist Romeo Langlois, center, is escorted by rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, upon their arrival to San Isidro, southern Colombia, Wednesday, May 30, 2012.
AP Photo

(AP) SAN ISIDRO, Colombia - A French journalist released to a humanitarian delegation by leftist rebels Wednesday said he was treated well during a monthlong captivity that began when he was trapped in a firefight.

"They never tied me up," Romeo Langlois said in this small southern hamlet before the handover ceremony. "Rather, they always treated me as a guest. They gave me good food ... They were always respectful."

The 35-year-old journalist looked relaxed and smiled contentedly. He did not appear bothered by the wound to his left arm sustained in the firefight.

Langlois arrived flanked by guerrillas in a green Toyota Land Cruiser and shook hands with farmers before fielding questions from reporters.

The Frenchman then made his way through a crowd of townspeople, who had build the wooden stage for Wednesday's ceremony, which occurred just a few miles from where he was taken on April 28.

Asked what he took from his captivity, Langlois said "I didn't need this experience to know the Colombian conflict or to know the rebels. I've been in this a long time."

"What I take from it is the conviction that one must continue covering this conflict," added the journalist, who had been on assignment for France24 television and has covered Colombia for more than a decade. He has also contributed to the daily Le Figaro.

Langlois made no apologies for accompanying the military on the cocaine-lab eradication mission that led to his capture. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia had criticized him in a communique in early May as having lent himself to government propaganda by doing so.

"I hope the army doesn't stop taking people to conflict zones, and let's hope the rebels also take journalists with them to show the daily life of their combatants because this conflict isn't being covered."

Three soldiers and a police officer were killed in the firefight that saw Langlois captured, and a bullet passed through the journalist's his left arm during the morning-long combat.

Before fleeing toward the rebels, who are known by their Spanish initials FARC, Langlois shed his helmet and body armor the military had provided. The rebels have said they took Langlois prisoner in part because he was wearing military garb.

A guerrilla commander told independent journalist Karl Penhaul last week that Langlois was lucky in the battle: an AK-47 bullet entered the arm above the elbow and exited the forearm without damaging bone or cartilage.

The delegation received Langlois included French diplomat Jean-Baptiste Chauvin, former Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba and the Red Cross country chief, Jordi Raich. It had arrived on rutted dirt roads from the state capital of Florencia in two Red Cross vehicles.

Residents of San Isidro, which lacks running water and electricity and lives off cattle ranching and coca crops, had prepared a barbecue for the handover, slaughtering six calves, and rebel commanders gave brief speeches.

Langlois used a small video camera as he sat on the stage and recorded images of the scene.

Before the handover, a public address system played FARC revolutionary songs as hundreds of peasants of converged on the hamlet.

This region of southern Colombia is a traditional FARC stronghold. It is laced with deep jungles, coca plots, fast-moving rivers and villages that appear on no maps.

"War is something we experience almost every day," Village council leader German Pena told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "There have been innumerable battles in this area. We've seen bullets flying on the main street of the village."

Some villagers doing the communal preparation for the handover expressed fears they could be targeted by the army for reprisal, accused of collaborating with the guerrillas.

"They think we're part of the guerrilla forces just because we live in this region and for that reason they target us sometimes," said Pena.

Colombia's government Colombia's said the military would suspend operations in the zone for 48 hours through Thursday at 6 p.m.

The FARC, which authorities say funds itself largely through the cocaine trade, has an estimated 9,000 fighters. It has recently stepped up hit-and-run attacks on soldiers and police after suffering years of setbacks from Colombia's U.S.-backed military.

The rebels announced in February that they were ending ransom kidnapping as a good-faith gesture made in hopes of launching peace talks.

The FARC released last month what it called its last "political prisoners," 10 soldiers and police it had held for as long as 14 years.