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3 journalists killed covering fighting in Afghanistan

By staff


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Johanne Sutton

Three journalists — two French and one German — were killed yesterday while covering the fighting in Afghanistan.

The French journalists were identified as Johanne Sutton, 34, of Radio France Internationale and Pierre Billaud of the Luxembourg-based RTL Radio. The German was Volker Handloik, a free-lance reporter for Stern, a major weekly newsmagazine based in Berlin.

The three are believed to be the first foreign journalists killed in Afghanistan since the American air bombardment in support of the Northern Alliance started on Oct. 7.

Pierre Billaud

Levon Sedunts, a Russian journalist who said he had been traveling with Sutton and Billaud, said they had been invited to accompany Northern Alliance troops who were inspecting Taliban trenches reportedly captured by the alliance near Taloqan, according to the Associated Press.

Six journalists were traveling on an armored personnel carrier, or APC, when Taliban forces opened fire with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. The blast threw some of the journalists off the vehicle, reporters said.

"The APC, under gunfire, took off again very, very quickly," Veronique Rebeyrotte, a journalist with France Culture radio, told France-Info radio. "The anguish was trying to know what happened to our friends who fell off the tank."

Paul McGeough, a correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, who also was on the APC, told the BBC the group had crossed the front line after three hours of heavy shelling between the alliance forces and the Taliban appeared to have ended.

They had reached the third line of the Taliban trenches when the vehicle came under fire from a small group of Taliban soldiers.

McGeough said a rocket-propelled grenade hit the APC, but it was able to continue. It went rapidly down a hill to seek cover, but came under more fire. Some of the journalists were on top of the vehicle and either fell off or jumped.

"Three of us clung on for grim death and we survived," McGeough said.

French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said both French journalists had paid the ultimate price for practicing their profession.

Chirac hailed "the courage of all journalists who, in the name of freedom and the duty to inform, are led to put their lives in danger,'' the president's spokeswoman said. French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin expressed "very great sadness."

"In my name and in the name of the government, I offer my deepest sympathies to the family of Johanne Sutton and I share the pain of her loved ones and the mourning of the community of war correspondents," Jospin said in a statement.

In Germany, Stern magazine said Handloik, 40, had been working in the region for the magazine since the beginning of October.

"The death of Volker Handloik has left us all speechless. Our sympathy goes out to his relatives and those of the other journalists killed with him," said Stern's chief editor, Thomas Osterkorn.

According to Stern, Handloik worked for the magazine and other publications for the past 10 years, generally in the former Soviet Union and South America. The magazine identified his body from a photograph.

In a separate incident, an American member of a camera crew for National Geographic suffered a flesh wound when he was shot in the leg near the front line between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban yesterday, Reuters reported.

Gary Scurka hobbled down from an opposition position on a hill where he was watching fighting in northern Takhar province. He had been shot in the right leg and was taken to hospital in nearby Khoja Bahawuddin.

Asked by an opposition fighter if his leg hurt, Scurka replied: "Compared to what you have been going through, I guess this is nothing.'' He pointed to his leg and said: "It's just a single bullet wound — Taliban.''


Journalists in peril
Preliminary list of journalists who died in the line of duty in 2001.  11.20.01

News media protest lack of access to U.S. soldiers
Military apologizes for preventing journalists inside Afghanistan from witnessing transfer of wounded American troops.  12.06.01