Hammerl widow waits to hear about remains

2012-04-05 13:01

Johannesburg - The family of South African photographer killed a year ago while covering the Libyan uprising is awaiting the identification of remains recently found buried with a camera lens in the North African country, his widow said.

"We can only hope that the uncertainty will end soon, for while it does not change our grief, it may help bring a level of closure to us," Penny Sukhraj told The Associated Press late on Wednesday. "We need to know if this is Anton."

Journalists who were with him say Anton Hammerl was shot on 5 April 2011, when they were attacked by forces of now-toppled leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Hammerl's family did not learn of his death for weeks.

Libyan officials did not release information and Hammerl's colleagues, initially held by Gaddafi's forces, were afraid to speak of his death until they were safely out of Libya.

Mass grave

South African officials had accused Libyan leaders under Gaddafi of misinforming them about Hammerl, assuring them for weeks after his death that he was alive. Gaddafi was killed by his opponents in October.

Last month, journalists and officials in Libya said a lens was found buried with one of the bodies in a mass grave in eastern Libya.

Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch's emergencies director, said hospital records linked to the body of the white male indicate he died around the time Hammerl was killed. Bouckaert has worked in Libya and closely followed the Hammerl case.

Bouckaert said Libyan authorities have been co-operative, but lack the capacity to perform the necessary DNA tests.


He called on South African, Austrian or British authorities to help. Hammerl also held Austrian citizenship, and had been living with his family in Britain for several years.

"It's been several weeks now and we certainly hope that things can be speeded up," Bouckaert said. "It's been very tough on Penny, who lost her husband almost a year ago."

International relations spokesperson Clayson Monyela said on Thursday he could not give details on efforts to identify the remains, but said, "work continues".

South Africa has said bringing Hammerl's body home for burial is a priority.

Otto Ditz, Austria's ambassador in Pretoria, said on Thursday that South Africa's international relations department has been working on the case, but added his country was ready to help.

Libya has remained restive since the end of Gaddafi's 40-year rule. Libya's new leaders have been faced with volatile local rivalries and clashes among armed groups that had united to help defeat Gaddafi.