Last Updated: Thu Aug 25, 2011 12:56 pm (KSA) 09:56 am (GMT)

Foreign journalists freed as 4 Italian reporters kidnapped near Zawiyah

Jude Burrows waits with other members of the international media to be evacuated by the International Red Cross from the Rixos hotel in Tripoli. (Photo by REUTERS)
Jude Burrows waits with other members of the international media to be evacuated by the International Red Cross from the Rixos hotel in Tripoli. (Photo by REUTERS)

Some 30 mostly foreign journalists who had been held against their will in Tripoli’s Rixos Hotel by guards loyal to Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi were freed on Wednesday. On the same day, however, four Italian journalists were kidnapped near Zawiyah.

The hotel-bound journalists, who were growing short of food and water after being confined to the hotel since Sunday, left the establishment around 1 pm (1500 GMT), they reported.

“The crisis is over. The journalists are out,” one of them announced on Twitter.

The circumstances of their release were not immediately known, but an AFP reporter said they had moved to the Corinthia Bab Africa Hotel in a safer part of the city.

The journalists had been unable to leave the Rixos since early Monday.

The vast majority of government soldiers standing guard outside had abandoned their positions by Wednesday, as rebel forces laid claim to vast swathes of Tripoli, including Qaddafi’s nearby Bab al-Aziziya compound.

But a handful remained, dressed in civilian clothes and carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles.

Members of the media gather in the corridors of the Rixos hotel in Tripoli.
Members of the media gather in the corridors of the Rixos hotel in Tripoli.

Journalists were kept on the first floor, and spent the entire day wearing bullet-proof vests and helmets.

Electricity, temporarily cut, has been restored, but water remained scarce. Mobile phone signals were poor.

“It’s getting pretty miserable here and you can only imagine the sort of tension which the foreigners here, the journalists here, find themselves feeling at the moment,” BBC correspondent Matthew Price told BBC radio on Wednesday.

After their release, Price said: “We drove out of the hotel compound into a completely different city than the one we had seen seven days earlier.”

Speaking of the guards, he said “it was firmly their belief that if we went outside of the hotel, the rebels would capture us, kill us and rape the women.”

The reporters said they were in the dark about what to expect and whether or not rebel forces would meet armed resistance once they attempted to take the Rixos.

“I got to one point some time on Monday when I thought: they’re going to use this hotel as a barracks for the army for one last stand,” Price said.

“If they do that, what’s going to happen to us? We found out we had no viable escape route. In the middle of all this violence, with the battle flaring up around us which we could hear but not see, it created this sense of paranoia.”

As a result, they hung banners outside windows plastered with the words “TV,” “Press,” or in Arabic: “News, do not shoot.”

Wednesday morning, some of the journalists attempted to venture a few meters (feet) from the hotel before gunfire erupted and armed men ordered them back inside.

In addition to the guards, the reporters also told expressed fears of sniper fire.

“Gunmen were roaming around the corridors,” Price said. “We believe there are still snipers on the roof of the hotel and effectively our movements are curtailed.”

Meanwhile, four Italian journalists were abducted near Zawiya in Libya on Wednesday, the Italian foreign ministry said.

The journalists worked for Italian newspapers Corriere della Sera, La Stampa and Avvenire, a spokesman for the foreign ministry said.

The group was taken while driving towards the capital from Zawiyah, a town 40 kilometers (25 miles) away, ANSA news agency reported, quoting Bruno Tucci, who heads a leading Rome-based journalist association.

A group of Qaddafi loyalists stopped the car, killed the driver, and took the journalists into a house where a reporter for the Avvenire Catholic paper was allowed to call their editors to explain what happened, ANSA reported.

Two other reporters were covering the conflict for Italy’s top daily, Corriere della Sera, while the fourth writes for La Stampa, according to the reports.

Elisabetta Rosaspina of Corriere della Sera is the only woman in the group, Tucci told ANSA.

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