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Iraq19 May 2003

Journalists down tools at start of EU ministers meeting in protest over Fred Nérac

Some 30 journalists covering a meeting of European foreign and defence ministers today in Brussels lay their cameras and microphones on the ground and refused to cover the ministers’ arrival in a protest against the failure of the British authorities to help investigate the disappearance of two ITN journalists, French cameraman Fred Nérac and Lebanese interpreter Hussein Othman, in southern Iraq on 22 March.

The only TV cameraman there with a camera on his shoulder was Nérac himself, as the journalists present brandished six life-size photographs of the missing journalist.

Nérac’s wife Fabienne Nérac took part in the protest, handing the arriving ministers copies of a letter signed by her and Reporters Without Borders calling for urgent action in the case. It urged the ministers:

"Firstly, to put press on the British and American authorities to carry out investigations and interrogate prisoners of war at the Umm Qasr camp as soon as possible. Everyday, some of the prisoners are being released. The more time goes by, the more testimonies are being lost.

"Secondly, to put pressure on the French government and British government, as members of the European Union, to coordinate their efforts in order to mitigate the unacceptable suffering of Fred Nérac’s wife and children by activating investigations."

British defence minister Geoff Hoon refused to take the copy of the letter which Fabienne Nérac held out to him. But French defence minister Michèle Alliot-Marie took her in her arms and promised to raise the matter with Hoon. As Greece has the EU presidency, the meeting was opened by Greek foreign minister George Papandreou, who in the course of doing so read out the text of the letter from Fabienne Nérac and Reporters Without Borders.

At a press conference in Paris on 16 May, the London-based Independent Television News (ITN) reiterated its calls for an official investigation, which the British authorities have so far refused to order. The head of ITN’s international section, Nick Walshe, who is in charge of ITN’s own investigation into the disappearance of its two employees, said the need was for policemen investigating in the field, not diplomats. Fabienne Nérac has asked to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair and foreign minister Jack Straw.

Fred Nérac and Hussein Osman have been missing since the four-member ITN crew they were working with came under fire - probably from US marines - on 22 March near Basra in southern Iraq. The other two members of the crew were British reporter Terry Lloyd, 51, who was killed in the incident, and Belgian cameraman Daniel Demoustier, who was wounded.




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