By Luis Jaime Acosta and Eduardo Garcia
BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's leftist FARC rebels accused the government of manipulating journalists and demanded a debate on freedom of information Monday as a step that may lead to the release of a French reporter kidnapped nine days ago.
Romeo Langlois, a reporter for news channel France 24, was embedded with government troops carrying out an anti-drug raid when a firefight broke out with members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, who later took him hostage.
"The minimum thing that should happen before he recovers his freedom is a broad-ranging debate about freedom of information," the FARC said in a statement, without specifying exactly what form the debate should take.
"The journalists that the armed forces carry with them ... do not comply with their duty to report impartially about reality, they manipulate (the facts)."
The rebels on Sunday issued a video statement confirming they are holding Langlois hostage as "a prisoner of war."
The FARC, who are described as terrorists by the United States and the European Union, say Langlois wore army-issued clothes when he was taken hostage.
The government says he was wearing plain clothes and that he removed his bulletproof vest and helmet and ran toward the rebels to prove them that he was a civilian.
While the FARC has kidnapped thousands of people since it was created in 1964, in February the group said it would stop taking hostages for ransom to pay for weapons, uniforms or food.
It did not say, however, that it would stop kidnapping for so-called political means to pressure the government.
Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos again demanded Langlois's rapid release. Continued...