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Paraguay24 August 2007

Chilean radio journalist shot dead in high-risk tri-border region

Reporters Without Borders voiced deep sadness today at the murder of community radio reporter Tito Palma on 22 August in Mayor Otaño, a town in the southern department of Itapúa near the point where the borders of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet. A Chilean national who resided in the area, he was shot dead by gunmen who also shot and wounded his partner.

Palma recently told friends he feared for his and his family’s safety. Threats against him had increased after he did a number of reports on trafficking in drugs and petroleum products in the tri-border area.

“We are outraged by Palma’s murder in a region where violence by organised crime is common and the media are often targets,” the press freedom organisation said. “He had reported on the air and to the authorities that he had received death threats after covering the activities of local criminal organisations, but nothing was done to protect him. We call for an investigation to establish the circumstances of this appalling case.”

Aged 48, Palma was dining with his partner, Vilma Martínez, and her father when two men wearing camouflage fatigues burst in and opened fire, killing him on the spot and wounding Martínez in the leg. The police are waiting to question Martínez.

He regularly reported for Radio Mayor Otaño and Asunción-based Radio Chaco Boreal on organised crime and its links with local politicians. This won him many enemies and for a while he was banned from reporting on the air. Although his family lives in Paraguay, he was also briefly expelled from the country until the interior ministry granted him a residence permit.

Friends said there had been a recent increase in death threats against him which were ignored by the authorities. Palma had told Radio Chaco Boreal journalist Victor Benítez he feared for his safety and was thinking of moving with his family to Chile. He and Benítez had managed to identify some of the phone numbers from which the threatening calls were made. Benítez has given them to the police.

Violence against journalists is on the increase in Itapúa. ABC Color correspondent Juan Augusto Roa survived a shooting attack unhurt on 27 February 2006 after investigating trafficking in drugs and cars. Oscar Bogado, a reporter with the daily Ultima Hora received death threats in May after doing a story on trafficking.

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