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Ukraine12 February 2003

Reporters Without Borders calls for more tests in Kolomiets death and stresses that enquiry is not over

Reporters Without Borders called today for new forensic tests in the death of journalist Mikhailo Kolomiets, found hanging from a tree last October, and said it was still not clear whether he was murdered.

French pathologist Jean Rivolet took part in an autopsy in Ukraine from 11 to 13 December last year which failed to rule out the police explanation of suicide, since no traces of violence were found on his body.

"It would be premature to conclude he killed himself just because the autopsy could not prove otherwise," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard. "The criminal enquiry is not yet over and we have asked the authorities to do more tests, especially on the clothes he was wearing when he died."

The body of Kolomiets, head of the news agency Ukrainski Novyny, was found hanging from a tree in a forest near Molodechno, in neighbouring Belarus, on 30 October last year. He had vanished on 21 October and police said he had gone the next day to Belarus intending to kill himself.

"We have asked Ukrainian prosecutor-general Svyatoslav Piskun to investigate why he left Ukraine, which is still quiet unclear, but have not yet had a reply," Ménard said.

Earlier this month, an enquiry in Belarus by the Ukrainian League of Economic Journalists and the Institute of Mass Information (IMI) found no proof of an attack on Kolomiets but did not rule out that he may have been subjected to psychological pressure to kill himself.

Friends and colleagues have rejected the suicide theory and say his death may have been connected with his work and political and economic news put out by the news agency that may have angered powerful people and interests.

Kolomiets, 44, founded the agency in 1997 and had a half share in it, with the other half held by the Agency for Humanitarian Technologies headed by Valery Khoroshkovsky, a close associate of President Kuchma. His widow Ludmyla said publicly on 16 December last that her husband had been threatened and harassed in the months before he died.

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