Libya killed Ham­merl, then lied

WAR DEATH: Fam­ily, SA govt out­raged by ‘in­tol­er­a­ble cru­elty’

Weekend Witness - - News - ERIKA GIB­SON and SAPA

“IT is in­tol­er­a­bly cruel that Gaddafi loy­al­ists have known An­ton’s fate all along and chose to cover it up,” the pho­tog­ra­pher An­ton Ham­merl’s fam­ily said in a state­ment af­ter learn­ing that he died in the Libyan desert on April 5.

“Words are sim­ply not enough to de­scribe the un­be­liev­able trauma the Ham­merl fam­ily is go­ing through,” the state­ment read.

“From the mo­ment An­ton dis­ap­peared in Libya we have lived in hope as the Libyan of­fi­cials as­sured us that they had An­ton.”

The state­ment said the fam­ily were told late on Thurs­day night, by two jour­nal­ists who had been with Ham­merl at the time, that the group were at­tacked by Muam­mar Gaddafi’s forces in an “ex­tremely re­mote” place in the Libyan desert. Ham­merl was shot. “Ac­cord­ing to eye­wit­nesses, his in­juries were such that he could not have sur­vived with­out med­i­cal at­ten­tion.”

In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions Min­is­ter Maite NkoanaMasha­bane told a press brief­ing yes­ter­day that the Libyan gov­ern­ment lied to South Africa about Ham­merl.

“We kept get­ting re­as­sured at the high­est level that he was alive un­til his col­leagues were re­leased and shared the in­for­ma­tion yes­ter­day [on Thurs­day],” she told re­porters in Pre­to­ria.

“Mr Ham­merl’s death is a very un­for­tu­nate act and the gov­ern­ment and the peo­ple of South Africa con­demn the per­pe­tra­tors of these ac­tions.”

She ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment that news of his death came not from Libyan authorities, but from the jour­nal­ists who were with him when he was killed on April 5.

Aus­tria’s am­bas­sador to South Africa Otto Ditz said: “We are very dis­ap­pointed at the Libyan side that they had not con­veyed the news. Now we hope they will be co-op­er­a­tive and show us where he is buried so we can bring him to his fam­ily for proper burial.”

He car­ried dual SA-Aus­trian cit­i­zen­ship.

Nkoana-Masha­bane and Ditz ex­pressed con­do­lences to Ham­merl’s fam­ily for their “tragic loss”. They would con­tinue get­ting con­sular ser­vices.

Amer­i­can jour­nal­ists Clare Mor­gana Gil­lis and James Fo­ley, and Span­ish pho­tog­ra­pher Manuel Brabo, were with Ham­merl when forces loyal to Libyan leader Muam­mar Gaddafi shot at them in the desert near Brega on April 5.

Nkoana-Masha­bane said the jour­nal­ists did not men­tion Ham­merl’s death ear­lier as they feared for their safety while in cus­tody in Libya.

She thanked Aus­trian authorities for their co-op­er­a­tion.

Ditz said they had re­ceived in­for­ma­tion from Ham­merl’s brother that he had gone miss­ing and had been work­ing with South African authorities since.

“We could not have done any bet­ter. We fol­lowed up on all pos­si­ble chan­nels we could.” There had been no hint from Libyan authorities that Ham­merl was dead. In­stead they re­ceived empty prom­ises, he said.

Ditz de­scribed Ham­merl as a “great pho­tog­ra­pher who knew the risks”.

SA Ed­i­tors’ Fo­rum (Sanef) chair­per­son Mondli Makhanya said: “We would have ap­pre­ci­ated more hon­esty from the Libyan gov­ern­ment.” He hoped Ham­merl’s body would be found.

The fo­rum was “dev­as­tated and an­gry” at the turn of events. Sanef had a meet­ing with the Depart­ment of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions yes­ter­day morn­ing, a meet­ing which was ini­tially aimed at find­ing ways to lo­cate the pho­to­jour­nal­ist and get him back home.

“But now we’ve met un­der grim and sad cir­cum­stances. Now we’re talk­ing about Ham­merl in the past tense.” said Makhanya.

In­de­pen­dent Democrats par­lia­men­tary leader Joe Mcgluwa said it was an “out­rage” that Libyan of­fi­cials had given the Ham­merl fam­ily false as­sur­ance of his safety.

The fact that NkoanaMasha­bane “ver­i­fied Ham­merl’s sta­tus” a week ago, and then post­poned a meet­ing with ed­i­tors, left the party “deeply dis­turbed”.

PHOTO: AN­TON HAM­MERL

Ham­merl went to Libya to cover the war as a free­lancer. This is one of his pho­to­graphs of rebels near the Brega front­line. It was taken on April 3, just two days be­fore he was killed. It was taken from his web­site: An­ton Ham­merl Pho­tore­portage.

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