South African photographer missing in Libya believed dead

Reuters News
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Posted: May 20, 2011 12:55 PM
South African photographer missing in Libya believed dead

By Tim Castle and Marius Bosch

LONDON/JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A South African freelance photographer missing in Libya since April is believed dead after being shot in the stomach and abandoned in the desert by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, his family said Friday.

Anton Hammerl, 41, who also had Austrian nationality and lived in London, was hit in the stomach after coming under fire on April 5, family friend Bronwyn Friedlander said in London.

South Africa and Austria criticized Gaddafi's government on Friday with Pretoria saying Libya had misled it about Hammerl and the ruling ANC also accused Tripoli of dishonesty.

Two American journalists and a Spanish photographer who were with Hammerl were taken captive by forces loyal to the Libyan leader. They could not report what had happened until their release in Tripoli Wednesday.

According to the released journalists, Hammerl was left behind bleeding while they were taken away by Gaddafi forces, Friedlander said.

"His injuries were such that he could not have survived without medical attention," she said.

"Anton was shot by Gaddafi's forces in an extremely remote location in the Libyan desert," the Hammerl family said in a statement on Facebook.

The American reporters, James Foley and Clare Gillis, spoke by telephone with Hammerl's wife Penny Sukhraj in London late on Thursday.

The attack took place on the outskirts of the eastern oil town of Brega when the journalists were fired on by pro-Gaddafi troops in two Libyan military trucks, Foley and Gillis said in an interview published on the GlobalPost website.

BRUTAL ACTION

Austria's Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said in a statement Libya failed to provide any helpful information despite repeated requests.

"This brutal action by Gaddafi's soldiers is a shocking example of the dangers that journalists in particular face in conflict situations. Freedom of the press is especially important in just these situations," Spindelegger said.

South African President Jacob Zuma has been criticized for not bringing up the issue of Hammerl with Gaddafi on a visit to Tripoli last month.

South Africa's foreign ministry, which said this month it had proof Hammerl was still alive, said Friday the Libyan government had misled it about the photographer.

"We kept getting reassured at the highest level that he was alive until his colleagues were released and shared the information...," International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told reporters Friday.

A senior ministry official who asked not to be named said: "She accused them of lying."

South Africa's ANC said it was incensed at the use of deadly force against civilians and the media.

"We are gravely incensed by the senseless and indiscriminate use of deadly force against innocent civilians and members of the media by the Libyan government ... We are particularly disappointed by the dishonesty of the Libyan government, which assured our government that our citizen was alive and in custody," the ANC said in a statement.

Hammerl, who had three young children, had lived in Britain for five years. His family had hoped he was still alive in captivity after he went missing in April, and had run a campaign for his release.

"From the moment Anton disappeared in Libya we have lived in hope as the Libyan officials assured us that they had Anton," his family said in a statement.

"It is intolerably cruel that Gaddafi loyalists have known Anton's fate all along and chose to cover it up."

Last month two photojournalists -- Oscar-nominated filmmaker Tim Hetherington and Getty photographer Chris Hondros -- were killed after coming under fire in the besieged Libyan town of Misrata.

(Additional reporting by Michael Shields in Vienna; Editing by Maria Golovnina)