Late Japanese reporter's partner seeks Syrian probe

Kazutaka Sato speaks to reporters after visiting the Syrian embassy in Tokyo on September 4, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/Yoshikazu TSUNO)

TOKYO: The partner of a Japanese war reporter shot dead in Syria urged Damascus on Tuesday to investigate her death, saying she had been ambushed by pro-government forces.

Kazutaka Sato, who was the common-law husband of Mika Yamamoto and with her when she was shot dead in Aleppo on August 20, said the international community could never forgive the deliberate targeting of reporters.

"I suspect the government side is afraid to see Western journalists, including us, report facts," said Sato, 56, a long-time colleague of Yamamoto.

The 45-year-old veteran war correspondent came under fire from what Sato said appeared to be pro-government troops in Aleppo, Syria's second city, which has borne the brunt of fighting in the country over the past month.

"What they fear most is a camera," Sato told a news conference in Tokyo after he accompanied her body home from Syria.

The pair, who were working for the small but respected Japan Press, appeared to have been "trapped and ambushed" by pro-government troops and were shot at from "extremely close range", he said.

Earlier in the day, Sato visited the Syrian embassy in Tokyo and handed over a letter requesting a thorough investigation of the case.

In the letter, Sato said: "If your country shoots journalists who report things it finds unfavourable, it is an outrageous act threatening the freedom of the press, which can never be forgiven internationally."

Yamamoto's funeral was held in her hometown of Yamanashi, west of Tokyo, last week. An autopsy revealed she had been shot nine times, including in the neck where the bullet had fatally damaged her cervical spinal cord.

Yamamoto is the fourth foreign journalist to have been killed in Syria since March 2011 and the first to have died in Aleppo. She had covered several armed conflicts, including in Afghanistan and Iraq.

She became a well-known face on Japanese television after surviving a US tank shelling on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad in 2003 in which two journalists, one from Reuters and one from a Spanish broadcaster, were killed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 26,000 people have been killed in Syria since the revolt began in March last year -- more than two-thirds of them civilians.





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