S. African’s widow awaits word on Libya remains

Apr 5, 2012, 12:31 PM

Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG (AP) – The family of a South African photographer killed a year ago while covering the Libyan uprising is awaiting the identification of remains recently found buried with a camera lens in the North African country, his widow said.

“We can only hope that the uncertainty will end soon, for while it does not change our grief, it may help bring a level of closure to us,” Penny Sukhraj told The Associated Press late Wednesday. “We need to know if this is Anton.”

Journalists who were with him say Anton Hammerl was shot April 5, 2011, when they were attacked by forces of now-toppled leader Moammar Gadhafi. Hammerl’s family did not learn of his death for weeks. Libyan officials did not release information and Hammerl’s colleagues, initially held by Gadhafi’s forces, were afraid to speak of his death until they were safely out of Libya.

South African officials had accused Libyan leaders under Gadhafi of misinforming them about Hammerl, assuring them for weeks after his death that he was alive. Gadhafi was killed by his opponents in October.

Last month, journalists and officials in Libya said a lens was found buried with one of the bodies in a mass grave in eastern Libya.

Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch’s emergencies director, said hospital records linked to the body of the white male indicate he died around the time Hammerl was killed. Bouckaert has worked in Libya and closely followed the Hammerl case.

Bouckaert said Libyan authorities have been cooperative, but lack the capacity to perform the necessary DNA tests. He called on South African, Austrian or British authorities to help. Hammerl also held Austrian citizenship, and had been living with his family in Britain for several years.

“It’s been several weeks now and we certainly hope that things can be speeded up,” Bouckaert said. “It’s been very tough on Penny, who lost her husband almost a year ago.”

Clayson Monyela, a spokesman for South Africa’s foreign ministry, said Thursday he could not give details on efforts to identify the remains, but said, “work continues.”

South Africa has said bringing Hammerl’s body home for burial is a priority.

Otto Ditz, Austria’s ambassador in Pretoria, said Thursday that South Africa’s foreign ministry has been working on the case, but added his country was ready to help.

Libya has remained restive since the end of Gadhafi’s 40-year rule. Libya’s new leaders have been faced with volatile local rivalries and clashes among armed groups that had united to help defeat Gadhafi.

The Committee to Protect Journalists documented scores of attacks on journalists, many of them Libyan, covering the Libyan conflict. Among others killed working there were New York-based photographer Chris Hondros and British-born photographer-filmmaker Tim Hetherington.

Journalists James Foley and Clare Morgana Gillis, who were with Hammerl when he was shot, announced Thursday that a fundraising auction of contemporary photojournalism prints will be held May 15 at Christie’s in New York. Proceeds will help Hammerl’s three children.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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S. African’s widow awaits word on Libya remains