Foreign journalists buried in Syria
Beirut - Two Western journalists killed in the Syrian city of Homs last week were buried in the embattled neighbourhood where they died, according to activist videos posted on Thursday, while two other reporters escaped into neighbouring Lebanon.
The videos and escape were steps toward the end of the ordeal of six Western journalists who sneaked into Syria illegally to report on the uprising against President Bashar Assad and found themselves trapped inside the besieged Homs neighbourhood of Baba Amr.
Complicating the picture, the Syrian government said late on Thursday it had found the bodies of three Western journalists - including that of one who entered Lebanon on Wednesday - and would return them to their countries.
A government rocket attack last week on a makeshift media centre they were sharing with Syrian activists killed two of the journalists and wounded two others, drawing attention to their presence in one of the most dangerous places in a country on the verge of civil war. It also led to intense work by diplomats, activists and the Red Cross to try to get them out.
American reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in the February 22 attack that also wounded French reporter Edith Bouvier and British photographer Paul Conroy. Also stuck in the rebel-held neighbourhood, which has been under a tight government siege and daily shelling for nearly four weeks, were Javier Espinosa of Spain and William Daniels of France.
Smuggled across border
Late on Thursday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Bouvier and Daniels had been successfully smuggled across the border into Lebanon. Conroy and Espinosa were both smuggled into Lebanon this week in an operation that activists said killed 13 people.
"I had (Bouvier) on the phone. She is with her colleague, outside Syria," Sarkozy said during an impromptu news briefing in Brussels. "She has suffered a lot, but she will give the details herself."
Also on Thursday, activists posted videos online showing the burials of Colvin and Ochlik.
In the videos, a man who says he is Dr Mohammed Ahmed al-Mohammed and who frequently appears in videos from the neighbourhood, says activists decided to bury the two on February 27 because the neighbourhood lacked electricity to keep the bodies refrigerated. They had started to decay, he says.
Al-Mohammed praises the work of the journalists, who sneaked into Syria to report on the 11-month-old uprising that the UN says has left more than 7 500 people dead. Activists put the number at more than 8 000.
The Syrian government has prevented most reporters from working in the country.
"Marie Colvin was martyred in Baba Amr because she was sending a heavenly message, a humanitarian message," al-Mohammed says in one video, appearing to be on the verge of tears. "She was telling the truth about what is happening in Baba Amr. May God be merciful to you, Marie, as we bury you in this garden."
In the other, he says Ochlik was "doing his humanitarian duty, and doing his duty as completely as possible to send the true picture of what is going on in Baba Amr during the most terrible time."
The content of the videos could not be independently verified.
In Colvin's video, the camera shows a body wrapped in white cloth at al-Mohammed's feet with a white paper attached to it reading "Marie Colvin" in English. He opens the fabric to reveal the badly burned face of a white person. It cannot be recognised as Colvin, a longtime war correspondent for Britain's Sunday Times.
Al-Mohammed also struck out at the US and Europe for not intervening to stop the shelling in Homs, even accusing the US administration of "collaborating" with Assad's regime.
"Does it make sense that America in all its greatness could not stop Assad from launching rockets at Baba Amr and could not remove Bashar from his seat?" he says.
The US, Europe and Arab countries have condemned Assad crackdown on opposition, but have said they will not intervene militarily.
"May God be merciful to her," the man says as dirt falls on Colvin's body. "Only God can help us."
He does the same in Ochlik's video, revealing a face that looks like Ochlik's with red wounds around the mouth and nose.
"He will remain eternally in our minds because he sent the true voice, the true picture and the true reality of what is happening here," al-Mohammed says.
The Baba Amr section of Homs has been the target of the heaviest Syrian military shelling during a four-week siege of rebel-held parts of Homs. Rebel forces said on Thursday they were pulling out of the neighbourhood, and a Syrian government official said the army had moved in. Activists say hundreds have been killed in Homs.
The Syrian state news agency reported late on Thursday that specialists from the Syrian government had found the bodies of three foreign journalists. It said they had been disinterred and would be transferred to Damascus so they could be identified and returned to their countries.
The report said the bodies were of Colvin, Ochlik and Espinosa. Syrian government officials could not be reached for further comment. Espinosa's domestic partner and his employer, El Mundo, said he is in Lebanon.
Reached at her home in East Norwich, New York, Colvin's mother, Rosemarie, said the family had received conflicting reports about her daughter's body.
"We're not getting any kind of decent information. It's all contradictory," she said. It was unclear if she had seen the video.
French leaders celebrated the escape of Bouvier, of Le Figaro, and Daniels.
Sarkozy said they were in Lebanon on their way to Beirut.
Foreign Minister Alain Juppe expressed his "immense joy" that the two were safe in Lebanon.
"They were taken in by the French Embassy in Beirut and everything is being done to ensure their medical care and their repatriation as soon as possible," he said.