SA asks US for help finding missing photographer

South Africa has asked the United States to help it track down photographer Anton Hammerl, who went missing in Libya last week, after diplomats trying to broker a ceasefire failed to raise the issue with Gaddafi’s representatives.

“We have received a request for assistance from the South African government,” US embassy spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau said on Tuesday.

Hammerl, a freelance photographer who used to work for the Star newspaper, was one of four journalists who went missing on April 4 in eastern Libya. The other three, reportedly seized by militia loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, are Clare Morgana Gillis of the TheAtlantic.com; James Foley, a freelance reporter with GlobalPost.com and Spanish photographer Manu Brabo.

President Jacob Zuma was in Libya on Sunday on behalf of the African Union, where he met Gaddafi in a bid to broker a ceasefire.

The Times on Monday quoted presidential spokesperson Zizi Kodwa as saying that Hammerl’s release “could not have been discussed” as Zuma, who led the AU’s ad-hoc high-level committee, was in Libya to present the AU’s “road map”, and to facilitate a dialogue between Gaddafi and his opposition.

News that Hammerl’s whereabouts or assistance for him had apparently not been raised by diplomats while in Libya has angered Hammerl’s family.

Hammerl’s wife Penny Sukhraj said from London on Tuesday that “we were led to believe that it would be raised by them”. She said she had been in contact with the South African government since last Thursday.

“I am really shocked. It’s absolutely outrageous.” She said she felt “incredibly let down”, and that most of the information she had obtained was by “prodding” the South African officials.

Sukhraj last spoke to Hammerl via Skype a day before he reportedly went missing. She said she had been told South African officials had for the first time on Tuesday sought to gain consular access to him. She said South African officials were aware of her husband’s plight when Zuma’s visit took place.

“They have done nothing,” she said.

Senior consular officials she had been contact with had told her “that they did not want to deal with this through the media”.

According to Trudeau, South Africa’s request for assistance was made on Tuesday.

Hammerl’s brother Alex, speaking from Johannesburg said: “Rather than them saying it’s a sensitive issue, I would like to see some transparency. It seems to me that there is more pride in visiting Gaddafi, than being involved with his own citizens.”

Also speaking from London, Hammerl’s mother, Freda Hammerl said: “I just want to know that he’s alright.” She was “really stressed” about reports her son had been separated from the other three journalists.

International relations and co-operation department spokesperson Clayson Monyela could not immediately be reached for comment.

Comment could also not be immediately obtained from the Libyan embassy in Pretoria. — Sapa

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