Three European journalists killed in Afghanistan, employers and colleagues say

Monday, November 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KHWAJA BAHUADDIN, Afghanistan (AP) _ Two French radio reporters and a German magazine journalist were killed when they came under Taliban fire while traveling with northern alliance forces, their employers and colleagues said Monday.

The journalists were identified as Johanne Sutton of Radio France Internationale, Pierre Billaud of RTL Radio and Volker Handloik, a freelance reporter for Stern newsmagazine in Berlin.

The three were believed to be the first foreign journalists killed in Afghanistan since the Oct. 7 beginning of American airstrikes in support of the northern alliance.

Levon Sedunts, a Russian journalist who said he had been traveling with Sutton and Billaud, said they had been invited to accompany northern alliance troops who were inspecting Taliban trenches reportedly captured by the alliance near Taloqan.

The journalists were traveling on an armored personnel carrier when the Taliban opened fire with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. The blast threw some of the journalists off the vehicle, reporters said.

``The tank, under gunfire, took off again very, very quickly,'' Veronique Rebeyrotte, a journalist with France Culture radio, told France-Info radio. ``The anguish was trying to know what happened to our friends who fell off the tank.''

Paul McGeough, a correspondent for Australia's Sydney Morning Herald who was among the group, said in a dispatch published Monday that the northern alliance commanders had told the journalists that the Taliban had left the trenches.

``When we got there, they had not surrendered,'' according to McGeough.

Opposition forces said Sunday they had captured Taloqan, the capital of Takhar and their former headquarters. The Taliban denied the city had been overrun.

Late Sunday, after RFI confirmed Sutton's death, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in a statement expressed ``very great sadness.''

``In my name and in the name of the government, I offer my deepest sympathies to the family of Johanne Sutton and I share the pain of her loved ones and the mourning of the community of war correspondents,'' Jospin said in the statement.

RTL confirmed Billaud's death early Monday.

In Germany, Stern magazine said Handloik, 40, had been working in the region for the magazine since the beginning of October.

``The death of Volker Handloik has left us all speechless. Our sympathy goes out to his relatives and those of the other journalists killed with him,'' said Stern's chief editor, Thomas Osterkorn.