Britain protests over reporter Marie Colvin's death in Syria

Feb 22, 2012

BRITAIN has summoned the Syrian ambassador to lodge a protest over the deaths of two Western journalists and demand the repatriation of their bodies, the Foreign Office said.

US-born war correspondent Marie Colvin, who worked for Britain's Sunday Times newspaper, and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik were killed yesterday by shell fire in the rebel Syrian city of Homs.

''On the foreign secretary's instructions, the Syrian ambassador to London, Sami Khiyami, was summoned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office this afternoon to see the political director, Geoffrey Adams,'' a statement said.

The statement said Adams expressed the ''grief we all felt'' for the journalists and demanded an end to the ''unacceptable violence'' in Homs.

''The political director said the Foreign Office expected the Syrian authorities to facilitate immediate arrangements for the repatriation of the journalists' bodies, and for the medical treatment of the British journalist injured in the same attack,'' it said.Sunday Times photojournalist Paul Conroy was injured in the same attack.

News International, which publishes The Times and The Sunday Times, is part of News Corporation, the ultimate owner of The Australian.

The reporters were killed when the building housing foreign and Syrian opposition journalists in Baba Amr district was hit, activists said. Several other foreign journalists were injured.

Colvin, who was in her 50s, lost an eye in a grenade attack during an assignment in Sri Lanka in 2001 and wore a black eye patch in public. She spoke to UK news programs about the desperate plight of Homs on Tuesday.

Ochlik, 28, had covered the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and had his work published in Le Monde, Paris Match, Time Magazine and The Wall Street Journal.

In Colvin's final dispatch for the newspaper, published on Sunday, she described how the streets of Baba Amr were deserted with regime snipers shooting at any civilians that came into sight.

"Almost every building is pock-marked after tank rounds punched through concrete walls or rockets blasted gaping holes in upper floors," she wrote.

"The building I was staying in lost its upper floor to a rocket last Wednesday. On some streets whole buildings have collapsed - all there is to see are shredded clothes, broken pots and the shattered furniture of families destroyed."

Syrian citizen journalist Rami al-Sayyed, who provided live footage on the internet from Baba Amr, was killed late on Tuesday when a rocket hit a car in which he was travelling.

Homs-based activist Hadi Abdullah said Sayyed was hit "while taking a family to the makeshift hospital". He said Sayyed died after bleeding for more than two hours.

Sayyed, 26, was married and the father of a toddler daughter.

"Today there will be no live broadcast because Rami is gone," said Mr Abdullah, who said the citizen journalist was a personal friend.

French TV reporter Gilles Jacquier was killed last month and a number of other reporters were injured when a shell exploded in Homs during a visit organised by the regime.

Since then, the situation has deteriorated in the city, and President Bashar al-Assad's forces have bombarded it for approaching three weeks. Hundreds of citizens have been killed in the assault, which has drawn widespread international condemnation.

The New York Times' two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anthony Shadid died last week of an apparent asthma attack while covering a story in eastern Syria.

More than 7000 people have been killed since protests against Assad's rule flared in March last year.

After she lost her eye Colvin promised not to "hang up my flak jacket," and kept reporting on the world's most troubled places.

"So, was I stupid? Stupid I would feel writing a column about the dinner party I went to last night," she wrote in the Sunday Times after the attack.

"Equally, I'd rather be in that middle ground between a desk job and getting shot, no offense to desk jobs.

"For my part, the next war I cover, I'll be more awed than ever by the quiet bravery of civilians who endure far more than I ever will. They must stay where they are; I can come home to London."

Easily recognisable for her black eye patch, Colvin was known for focusing on the plight of women and children in wartime.

In an interview with the BBC on on Tuesday, she vividly recounted the death of an infant in Syria.

"I watched a little baby die today," she said. "Absolutely horrific, a 2-year old child had been hit. They stripped it and found the shrapnel had gone into the left chest and the doctor said 'I can't don't anything'."

Colvin worked in the Balkans, where she went on patrol with the Kosovo Liberation Army as it engaged Serb military forces. She worked in Chechnya, where she was repeatedly attacked by Russian jets while reporting on Chechen rebels. She also covered the conflict in East Timor after its people voted for independence and was the last journalist to leave.

She was outspoken in her defense of independent journalism, and a fervent advocate for the cause of war reporting. During a tribute service at Fleet Street's St. Bride's Church in November 2010, she offered a stirring appeal to media executives, pressing the case to continue investing in conflict zone reportage.

"Our mission is to speak the truth to power," she said. "We send home that first rough draft of history. We can and do make a difference in exposing the horrors of war and especially the atrocities that befall civilians."



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