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IPI concerned over delays in investigation into missing journalists' whereabouts

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 20 May 2003 IPI letter to U.K. Secretary of State for Defence Geoffrey Hoon and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld:

The Rt Hon Geoffrey Hoon MP
Secretary of State for Defence
Ministry of Defence
Main Building, Whitehall
London SW1A 2HB
United Kingdom

Fax: +44 207 218 1289

The Honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld
Secretary of Defense
Office of the Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Fax: +1-703-697 83 39

Vienna, 20 May 2003

Dear Mr. Hoon,
Dear Mr. Rumsfeld,

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives, and leading journalists from over 115 countries, is writing to you to express its concern over the persistent delays in providing information on the whereabouts of French cameraman Frédéric Nerac and his Lebanese translator Hussein Osman.

According to information provided to IPI, on 22 March 2003, a camera crew from the Independent Television News (ITN) came under heavy fire at Iman Anas on the approaches to Basra. During the unfortunate incident, ITN reporter Terry Lloyd was killed, cameraman Daniel Demostier was injured, while Nerac and Osman both went missing. Neither man has been seen since that date.

Since the disappearance of Nerac and Osman, there have been numerous attempts by ITN and the relatives of the two men to encourage the United Kingdom (UK) and United States (U.S.) military to investigate the incident, in the hope that they might still be found alive. On 3 April, the wife of Nerac, Fabienne Nerac, received the assurances of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that he would "personally" examine the case. A promise of assistance that was echoed when she met with French President Jacques Chirac on 4 April.

However, although there has been some headway in the investigation into the disappearance of the two men, for instance, their press cards were reportedly found at the local headquarters of the Baath party in Al Zubayr, southern Iraq, the investigation has been characterized by an inertia and sluggishness that belies the importance of the investigation, and the possibility that the two men may still be alive.

Indeed, despite the firm assurances of Secretary Powell, it appears that the U.S. military did not announce a full and proper investigation until the end of April, over one month after the actual incident; while the United Kingdom military, which has overall zonal responsibility for the area, has failed to properly investigate despite repeated requests from concerned parties. As a result, it is entirely possible that crucial evidence regarding the men?s disappearance may have been lost.

On the question of the apparent indifference of the allied forces, IPI is at a complete loss to explain why there has been so little movement on this issue. At present, the disappearance of Nerac and Osman is one of the enduring mysteries of the Iraq war. For this reason, and because of the allied forces involvement in the initial incident that led to their disappearance, IPI believes that it is incumbent on the allied forces to make the investigation a priority. Moreover, the allied forces have assumed de facto control of Iraq and, as the responsible body in authority, they have an overwhelming duty to undertake a thorough and open investigation into their disappearance.

With the above in mind, IPI calls on both UK and U.S. military forces to conduct a full and open investigation and to make public their findings. By doing so, you will be giving considerable solace to the relatives of the missing men who have a right to know what happened.

We thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Johann P. Fritz

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