Libyan government 'sad' about photographer deaths

Tim Hetherington
Image caption Tim Hetherington and a colleague, US photographer Chris Hondros, were killed in a grenade attack

The Libyan government has expressed "sadness" over the deaths of two award-winning photographers killed while covering the conflict in Misrata.

But spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said there were always casualties in war, saying: "People die from our side, from their side, people get caught in the middle."

Briton Tim Hetherington and US photographer Chris Hondros were killed in a grenade attack on Wednesday.

Tributes have poured in for the widely respected photo-journalists.

Two other jounalists were injured in the attack, including Briton Guy Martin, a Cornish photographer who was working with Panos Pictures agency. He was hit by shrapnel and is being treated at a hospital in the city.

A survivor told the BBC that a group of journalists had been pulling back from near the front line during a lull in the fighting in Misrata when they were attacked.

The BBC's Orla Guerin, in Misrata, said there appeared to have been "a direct hit on the group".

Mr Ibrahim said the Libyan government did not want people to die and called for an end to the fighting.

"We are sorry for the loss of any human life, of course. We have said this before, we are sorry for the loss of the rebels' lives, and we said we want people to stop fighting, so no one dies," he said.

He also said: "We do not kill anyone that does not fight us. We need to check the circumstances in which [these] journalists died.

"And it's war of course. People die from our side, from their side, people get caught in the middle. We need to check the circumstances. But of course we are very sad that someone died."

Mr Hetherington, 40, co-directed the Oscar-nominated war documentary Restrepo. Mr Hondros, 41, won the Robert Capa Gold Medal for war photography.

Mr Hetherington's friend James Brabazon, who worked with him on Restrepo, said: "He was extremely talented, experienced and dedicated."

He explained why Mr Hetherington was working for Vanity Fair magazine in Libya: "He went there for humanitarian reasons. He went there to shed light on a very confusing situation."

In a statement on the magazine's website, his family said he would be "forever missed".

Vanity Fair magazine said Mr Hetherington - who was killed outright by a rocket-propelled grenade - was "widely respected by his peers for his bravery and camaraderie" .

In a recent entry on Twitter, Mr Hetherington described "indiscriminate shelling" by pro-Gaddafi forces, who have been battling rebels trying to end the rule of long-time leader Col Muammar Gaddafi.

Mr Brabazon said: "Although it's an oxymoron to say it, Tim was a very cautious war reporter. He knew the risks but he decided to take them in order to cover the story."

Mr Hondros was based in New York for Getty Images.

The company's director of photography, Pancho Bernasconi, said Mr Hondros had covered conflict zones since the late 1990s, including Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House issued a statement expressing its "deep sadness" at Mr Hondros's death and said it underscored "the need to protect journalists as they cover conflicts".

Image caption The White House said it was deeply saddened about the death of US photographer Chris Hondros

New York-based photographer Michael Christopher Brown was also treated for shrapnel injuries.

Our correspondent added that Misrata's hospital had received more than 100 casualties on Wednesday, the vast majority of them civilians. The hospital said five civilians had been killed.

Libyan government forces have been battling rebels in Misrata, which is in western Libya, since late February. An estimated 300 civilians have died.

Mr Hetherington, who had dual UK and US nationality, studied Literature at Oxford University.

The New York-based journalist was best known for his work in Afghanistan, and the film Restrepo followed US troops on an outpost in the country. He won the World Press Photo of the Year Award in 2007.

Another of Mr Hetherington's friends, Peter Bouckaert from the campaign group Human Rights Watch, said the journalist had been planning to "slow down" and start a family with his partner.

The New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) said two other journalists had been killed this year in the Libyan conflict.

Cameraman Ali Hassan al-Jaber was shot when his Al-Jazeera crew was ambushed near Benghazi on March 13. Mohammed al-Nabbous, founder of the online Libya Al-Hurra TV, was killed as he was streaming live audio from a battle in Benghazi on March 19.

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