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Ukraine27 November 2002

Prosecutor agrees to independent expert in probe of journalist’s death

A body found hanging from a tree in a Belarus forest has been identified as that of journalist Mikhailo Kolomiets by his mother Olga. An enquiry into the death of Kolomiets, who vanished on 21 October, has been started by the Ukrainian general prosecutor’s office, which has accepted the help of an outside pathologist supplied by Reporters Without Borders to determine the cause of death.

19.11.2002 Reporters Without Borders offers independent expert in search for vanished journalist

Reporters Without Borders expressed concern today at official statements about the recent discovery in Belarus of a body that may be that of Mikhailo Kolomiets, head of the news agency Ukrainski Novyny.

The organisation called on Ukraine’s general prosecutor, Svyatoslav Piskun, to personally take up the case and offered to send a French pathologist to help. It also asked him to take into account contradictions in evidence it had gathered and not to rule out the possibility of a contract killing.

Kolomiets disappeared on 21 October and his news agency reported him missing on the 28th, noting that it could be linked to his journalistic work and the agency’s occasional criticism of the authorities. Police said he had left Ukraine for Belarus on 22 October and made phone calls on the 28th to his staff, his family and a woman friend. Police said he told them he had left the country with the intention of killing himself.

Evidence gathered by Reporters Without Borders was contradictory. Kolomiets’ friends said that in his phone calls, he had not said he intended to kill himself, that he was not depressed and had no personal reason to commit suicide. His mother denied police statements that she had been in regular contact with her son since he disappeared.

Ukrainian interior minister Yuri Smirnov announced the discovery of Kolomiets’ body on 18 November in Belarus, hanging from a tree in a forest near the town of Molodeshno. An official of the Ukrainian ministry, Volodymyr Yevdokimov, told the media it was clearly a case of suicide unconnected to the journalist’s work.

Reporters Without Borders is concerned about these hasty conclusions, announced before an enquiry has begun. A spokesman for the Belarus interior ministry, Olexandr Zarubitsky, was more cautious, saying that the body had not yet been identified.




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