Deaths raise safety concerns

The International Federation of Journalists has called on media organisations to act to minimise the risk to reporters covering the conflict in Afghanistan following the killing of three journalists in an ambush on Sunday.

"Journalists must not go into areas that have not been secured," said Aidan White, general secretary of the IFJ. "These colleagues apparently died following a lead from a Northern Alliance commander who said he was taking them into an area the Taliban had surrendered. In fact, it was a trap." French journalists Johanne Sutton, 34, of Radio France Internationale, and Pierre Billaud, 31, working for the Luxembourg-based RTL network, and a German freelance, Volker Handloik, 40, reporting for Stern magazine, were among a group of six journalists travelling on the roof of an armoured personnel carrier that was fired upon close to the frontline in north-eastern Afghanistan.

The three were apparently dislodged from the carrier and shot by Taliban forces while the others escaped.

According to Australian journalist Paul McGeough, one of the survivors, they had been invited by an Alliance commander, Amer Bashir, to visit a ridge captured from the Taliban. He said the personnel carrier came under fire from three directions.

McGeough said the carrier lurched violently and Handloik, who had been sitting beside him, was thrown through the air. He was later found to have been shot through the head.

In an article for the Sydney Morning Herald, McGeough wrote: "We are here by choice and we all took the calculated risk of riding into the night with Commander Bashir." The IFJ said: "These journalists died tragically trying to cover a story that all the world wants to know about, but they should not have been put at risk."

The IFJ has again called on all media to follow the international codes adopted by major news groups for the safety of journalists and media staff.

"No story is worth a life," said the IFJ. "Journalists and media organisations must make sure that safety is the first concern, particularly in this uncontrolled and ill-disciplined form of warfare." lThe IFJ has expressed concern that the media may be a target after the Kabul office of Arab satellite television network al-Jazeera was destroyed by a US bomb shortly before Northern Alliance forces entered the city. Managing director Mohammed Jassim al-Ali said its 10 staff were believed to be safe but their whereabouts were unknown. The missile also damaged offices of Associated Press and the BBC.

By Jon Slattery

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