NZ family grieves photographer's slaying in Libya

00:59, May 21 2011
South African photojournalist Anton Hammerl.
KILLED IN LIBYA: South African photojournalist Anton Hammerl who has been killed in Libya.

The New Zealand family of a South African photojournalist who was killed in Libya are struggling to come to terms with his death.

Anton Hammerl, 41, who lived in London, was shot in the stomach and abandoned in the Libyan desert by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi on April 5, family friend Bronwyn Friedlander said in London.

Two American journalists and a Spanish photographer, who were with him at the time, were taken captive.

His family believed Mr Hammerl was detained, but his colleagues confirmed his death after being released in Tripoli on Thursday.

"From the moment Anton disappeared in Libya we have lived in hope as the Libyan officials assured us that they had Anton," his family said in a statement.

"It is intolerably cruel that Gaddafi loyalists have known Anton's fate all along and chose to cover it up."

His cousin Jenny Cutting, who lives in Hawke's Bay, told Radio New Zealand today the family were struggling with the news.

She said they were considering sending a family member to England to be with his wife and children.

According to the released journalists, Mr Hammerl was left behind bleeding on the outskirts of the eastern oil town of Brega while they were taken by Gaddafi forces.

"His injuries were such that he could not have survived without medical attention," Ms Friedlander said.

The American reporters, James Foley and Clare Gillis, spoke by telephone with Mr Hammerl's wife in London late on Thursday.

The attack took place on the outskirts of the eastern oil town of Brega when the journalists were fired on by pro-Gaddafi troops in two Libyan military trucks, Foley and Gillis said in an interview published on the GlobalPost website.

South Africa and Austria have criticised Gaddafi's government with Pretoria saying Libya had misled it about Hammerl and the ruling ANC also accused Tripoli of dishonesty.

Austria's Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said in a statement Libya failed to provide any helpful information despite repeated requests.

"This brutal action by Gaddafi's soldiers is a shocking example of the dangers that journalists in particular face in conflict situations. Freedom of the press is especially important in just these situations," Spindelegger said.

South African President Jacob Zuma has been criticised for not bringing up the issue of Hammerl with Gaddafi on a visit to Tripoli last month.

South Africa's foreign ministry, which said this month it had proof Hammerl was still alive, said Friday the Libyan government had misled it about the photographer.

"We kept getting reassured at the highest level that he was alive until his colleagues were released and shared the information...," International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told reporters Friday.

A senior ministry official who asked not to be named said: "She accused them of lying."

South Africa's ANC said it was incensed at the use of deadly force against civilians and the media.

"We are gravely incensed by the senseless and indiscriminate use of deadly force against innocent civilians and members of the media by the Libyan government ... We are particularly disappointed by the dishonesty of the Libyan government, which assured our government that our citizen was alive and in custody," the ANC said in a statement.

Mr Hammerl had three young children and had lived in Britain for five years.

-NZPA and Reuters