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Monday, 12 November, 2001, 13:51 GMT
Three journalists killed in Afghanistan
Front line trenches
The journalists were travelling across the front line
Three journalists - two French and one German - have been killed in northern Afghanistan in a Taleban ambush on an opposition convoy.

The French journalists were Johanne Sutton of Radio France Internationale and Pierre Billaud of RTL radio station.

The German, Volker Handloik, was a freelancer working for Stern magazine.

Johanne Sutton
Johanne Sutton was killed in a grenade ambush

They are said to be the first media casualties since the US-led attacks in Afghanistan that began last month.

French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin offered their sympathies to the families.

Mr Chirac hailed "the courage of all journalists who, in the name of freedom and the duty to inform, are led to put their lives in danger".

An Afghan translator who was with the journalists is reported to be missing. An American journalist was injured.

They were among a group travelling on an armoured personnel carrier (APC) with the Northern Alliance forces across the front line near the Tajik border.

Taleban trenches

Two journalists who were with the group said they had crossed the front line on the APC after three hours of heavy shelling between the Alliance forces and the Taleban appeared to have ended.

"All three of us were on the back of the APC and we were joking about dragging along our interpreter, who was a bit reluctant about it," said Veronique Rebeyrotte, a French reporter for France Culture.


We were in a hurry to get into the Taleban zone, to see what was happening on the other side. We never thought we would be taking a risk

French reporter Veronique Rebeyrotte

"We never thought we would be taking a risk," she said.

"We were in a hurry to get into the Taleban zone, to see what was happening on the other side," Ms Rebeyrotte said.

They had reached the third line of the Taleban trenches when the vehicle came under fire from a small group of Taleban soldiers.

A rocket-propelled grenade hit the APC, but it was able to continue.

It went rapidly down a hill to seek cover, but still came under Taleban fire.

Sutton, Billaud and Handloik tumbled off the roof of the APC when it braked suddenly and turned back.

"Three of us clung on for grim death and we survived," said Sydney Morning Herald correspondent Paul McGeough.

The bodies of two of the dead were discovered in the Taleban trenches some time after the incident.

See also:

12 Nov 01 | South Asia
The risks of war reporting
03 Nov 01 | South Asia
Taleban free French reporter
05 May 01 | World
Perils increase for journalists
19 Apr 01 | South Asia
Appeal over BBC journalist killing
17 Nov 00 | Americas
Killers hit Colombian press
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