French journalists murdered ‘in cold blood’ in Mali

Motive and identity of murderers unknown as killings are universally condemned

The bodies of two French radio journalists Claude Verlon and Ghislaine Dupont, kidnapped and killed in Mali were repatriated on Sunday (Nov 3). France said on Sunday the journalists had been "coldly assassinated" and vowed to step up security.

Mon, Nov 4, 2013, 01:00


The kidnapping and murder of two French journalists in Kidal, northeastern Mali, at the weekend has elicited universal condemnation but little information regarding the identity or motives of their killers.

Radio reporter Ghislaine Dupont (51) and sound technician Claude Verlon (58) recorded their last interview in the home of Ambéry Ag Rhissa, an official in the Tuareg separatist movement MNLA, at midday on Saturday.

The journalists had just left when Mr Ag Rhissa heard a loud noise and opened the door. “A man told me in Tamachek (a Tuareg language) to go back inside,” Mr Ag Rhissa told Le Journal du dimanche. “He carried a kalashnikov, was wearing a traditional boubou (robe), a black chèche (scarf) and sunglasses.”

Mr Ag Rhissa saw the two journalists pushed into a Toyota pickup. The vehicle sped away.

Within minutes, the French military deployed two helicopters and a 30-man ground patrol. France has maintained thousands of troops in Mali since last winter, when Paris intervened to prevent Islamist guerrillas and Tuareg separatists taking over the country.

Three hours later, the journalists’ bullet-ridden bodies were found on the ground, near the locked, abandoned pickup, 12km east of Kidal. They appeared to have been executed “in cold blood”, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said.

‘No unnecessary risks’
Ms Dupont and Mr Verlon had arrived in Mali last Tuesday to prepare a special programme for Radio France Internationale (RFI) in the run-up to legislative elections. Both had reported from Kidal during the presidential election last summer.

“They weren’t daredevils. They took no unnecessary risks,” said Marie-Christine Saragosse, the chair of France Médias Monde, to which RFI belongs.

Ms Dupont, known to colleagues as Gigi, had covered Africa for two decades. Her gravelly voice was known to Francophone radio listeners throughout the continent. A tenacious investigative reporter, she was considered an authority on African politics, particularly the Democratic Republic of Congo and great lakes region. Her colleague Cyril Bensimon described how when the Congolese government declared Dupont persona non grata, it increased her fame in the streets of Kinshasa, Goma and Bukavu.

Mr Bensimon described Mr Verlon as “an unparalleled technician” who could build a sound studio in half an hour and obtain a satellite link in the most difficult conditions. “When you passed him in the corridors at RFI, he’d often ask, ‘So, when are we leaving?’” Mr Bensimon recalled.

Ms Saragosse, Cécile Mégie, the director of RFI, and Yves Rocle, the head of African news, will fly to Bamako as early as today to retrieve the journalists’ bodies. RFI is the radio branch of overseas French public broadcasting, and claims 40 million listeners. The station played classical music in lieu of regular programmes on Saturday night. Some 1,300 listeners had sent condolences by yesterday morning.

Four RFI journalists have been killed on the job in the past decade. “People tend to think that the freedom to inform is well established,” Ms Saragosse said. “But we know that in a lot of places it has to be won, and in some places it’s regressing. We’re giving up. Anger will make us more determined not to be silenced by barbarians.”

Targets
When Mr Fabius visited RFI’s headquarters yesterday, he told journalists their murdered colleagues would want them to continue working. “The situation of journalists has changed,” he said. “Before, being a journalist was a form of protection. Now it makes you a target.”

President Francois Hollande, the UN Security Council, the president of the EU Commission, Reporters without Borders, the French National Journalists’ Syndicate and the International Federation of Journalists condemned the murders.

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