Gunmen Kill AP, Reuters Journalists
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) _ A cameraman for Associated Press Television News and a Reuters correspondent, both renowned for covering the world’s most dangerous conflicts, and four Sierra Leone soldiers were killed when suspected rebels ambushed their vehicles, U.N. officials and local reporters said.
Spaniard Miguel Gil Moreno de Mora, 32, of APTN and Washington native Kurt Schork, 53, of Reuters, died Wednesday after they were hit near Rogberi Junction, an area hotly contested in recent days by pro-government forces and rebels of the Revolutionary United Front, journalists said.
Two more Reuters journalists, South African cameraman Mark Chisholm and Greek photographer Yannis Behrakis, suffered slight injuries in the same attack.
Escorted by at least 10 pro-government soldiers, Gil Moreno de Mora and Schork were traveling in two vehicles when the group was ambushed about 50 miles east of the capital, Freetown.
In his account of the ambush carried by Reuters, Behrakis described a chaotic series of events, seeing Schork hit by gunfire and Gil Moreno de Mora’s car attacked.
``There was a lot of shooting and for a second I saw Miguel’s car behind getting hit,″ he wrote.
Behrakis said he scrambled out the window of his moving car. With bullets flying between rebels and soldiers, Behrakis ran to a stretch of thick bush.
``At one point, the rebels walked 15 feet away but didn’t see me,″ he said, adding he waited there for three hours before fleeing on foot back to Rogberi Junction.
Behrakis, other journalists on the scene and a U.N. official who spoke on condition he not be named said four soldiers were killed at the scene as well.
State Department acting spokesman Philip Reeker confirmed the attack and sent the department’s condolences to the victims’ families.
Gil Moreno de Mora was the 25th AP journalist to die in the line of duty since the organization was founded in 1848. Previously, APTN producer Myles Tierney was fatally shot in Sierra Leone a year ago and AP West Africa bureau chief Ian Stewart was also seriously wounded.
Gil Moreno de Mora began his professional life as a corporate lawyer but was drawn to the challenge of news reporting, which began with his coverage of the Bosnian war in the early 1990s. He went on to cover conflicts in Kosovo, Chechnya, Iraq, Congo and other parts of the world for APTN.
Of reporting from Chechnya, Gil Moreno de Mora said in a recent first-person account: ``Every minute of every day you think you are going to die.″
Louis D. Boccardi, AP’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement that ``Miguel’s death leaves us with an indescribable sense of loss. Our pain is not eased by the certainty that he was doing work he loved when tragedy struck.
``Professional accolades fade to the background at tragic moments like this but at least he lived to accept the honor, just last month, of being hailed as the Royal Television Society’s cameraman of the year,″ he said.
Nigel Baker, head of news for APTN, said ``Miguel was intuitive, bold and one of the most intelligent cameraman of his generation. ... He went to the world’s most dangerous places but didn’t make a move without weighing up the reasons for doing it and his options. He had immense respect from all who knew him not just for his work but because he was a deeply modest man who would help anybody he could.″
Schork, a Rhodes scholar, had reported for Reuters for the last decade, and covered many of the same conflicts that Gil Moreno de Mora had. The two had been good friends since reporting from Bosnia, when they often worked closely together.
``Kurt Schork was a courageous reporter, a courageous man who perhaps more than any other journalist highlighted the plight of the Kurds during the Gulf War and later those victims of the Balkans conflicts,″ said Reuters Editor-in-Chief Geert Linnebank.
Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said from New York that ``the world doesn’t always understand how much it owes″ to journalists like Gil Moreno de Mora and Schork.
``What the public that watches these pictures and doesn’t really realize is the compulsion to tell the story, which differentiates people like Kurt and Miguel from the rest of us _ the risks they take to make sure the world knows what’s happening in what otherwise would be the dark recesses of people behaving at their absolute worst,″ he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in New York that he was saddened to hear of the deaths.
``These were professionals, seeking to report on a bloody conflict that has already taken too many lives,″ he said.
William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said the organization condemned the killings and extended condolences to Gil Moreno de Mora and Schork’s families.
Pro-government forces in the West African nation have been fighting the rebel Revolutionary United Front, which took hundreds of U.N. peacekeepers hostage early in May and then launched an advance toward Freetown. Government forces have been slowly pushing the rebels away from the capital since then.