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3 journalists killed in Afghanistan

November 13, 2001

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ISLAMABAD, Nov 12: Three journalists were killed in northeastern Afghanistan after their convoy was ambushed by Taliban troops, reports said on Monday.

Two French nationals and a German, died when they and several other journalists were, travelling on a Northern Alliance armoured personnel carrier accompanying Commander Mamur Hassan on an inspection of a Taliban trench they thought had surrendered when Taliban forces attacked with mortars and machine guns.

The German journalist who worked for a German news magazine was Volker Handloik, 40, a freelance reporter who had worked for the weekly Stern for 10 years. Paul McGeough, a Sydney Herald reporter survived the ambush.

The two French victims were named as 34-year-old Johanne Sutton of Radio France International (RFI) and Pierre Billaud, 31, of the radio and television station RTL.

“They shot at us with Kalashnikovs. They were very close to the tank, with Kalashnikovs and anti-tank rockets,” French radio journalist Veronique Reyberotte said in describing the Taliban ambush in which two of her French colleagues and a German journalist were killed.

Interviewed on the radio station France Inter, Reyberotte said that she, Johanne and Pierre were all siting on the back of a tank heading for the village of Gulbakhar, north of Kabul.

“We never thought we were risking anything,” Reyberotte said. “We were joking about having found an Afghan interpreter who didn’t speak very much.” After about 10 minutes, the tank on which they were travelling came under fire from Taliban fighters.

“Everything happened very fast,” Reyberotte said. “We heard lots of shooting. The tank braked violently, and the people fell or jumped off.”

Reyberotte remained on the tank, which was still under fire and hurriedly left the scene.

“There was no question of turning back,” she said. “We were in the middle of nowhere. It was agony not knowing what happened to our friends who fell from the tank.”

According to French media reports, when soldiers of the Northern Alliance returned to the scene of the ambush, Sutton, Billaud as well as German journalist Volker Handloik were found dead.

The helicopter carrying the bodies of three journalists the Tajik capital Dushanbe late on Tuesday, Afghan government-in-exile diplomats in Dushanbe said.

The chopper, which was initially expected in Dushanbe late on Monday, had to land in Tajikistan 150 kilometres south of the capital as it could not fly at night.—dpa