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Japanese journalist shot dead in Syria

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Publication Date : 22-08-2012


A Japanese journalist has been shot dead at close range in a northern city of war-torn Syria, the Japanese Embassy in Turkey said recently.

Mika Yamamoto, 45, of The Japan Press, an independent news agency, was killed in a gun battle at about 9 p.m. Monday in Aleppo, where government forces and rebels have been locked in intense fighting since late July. She was traveling with the rebel Free Syrian Army, according to the Foreign Ministry's Japanese Nationals Overseas Safety Division and other sources.

Yamamoto arrived in Syria with Kazutaka Sato, the agency's representative journalist, on Thursday to cover the country's civil war.

Yamamoto was shot in the neck from close range while covering fighting in Aleppo's eastern Suleiman al-Halabi district, where the city's fiercest battles have been occurring.

She was rushed to a hospital in Kilis, a Turkish town on the border with Syria, but was confirmed dead.

"I saw a group of men wearing camouflage coming closer to us," Sato, who escaped unhurt, later told NTV. "Looking at their helmets, I thought they were government forces. I think I shouted to the others, 'Get out of here!'"

"At that moment, they started firing at random," he added.

Sato said Yamamoto was probably 20 to 30 metres away from the shooters when she was struck. He did not see her after that, he said.

On Monday, rebel forces posted a video titled, "Japanese news reporter Mika...killed by Assad's shabihas" on YouTube. Shabihas are militia loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Syrian forces also used helicopters and aircraft to pound rebels in the Suleiman al-Halabi district that day.

Meanwhile, one Turkish and two Arabic journalists went missing in Aleppo on Monday, according to reports.

Yamamoto became the fourth foreign journalist confirmed to have died while covering the conflict in Syria since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011.

Since late July, Aleppo has been a key battleground for government forces and opposition fighters, as rebels have been gaining control of more areas in northern Syria.

Several foreign journalists are believed to have entered Syria via Turkey to cover fighting in the city, the fate of which could influence the future direction of the conflict.

Reporter covered conflict areas

For nearly 20 years, Yamamoto covered news from conflict areas such as Iran, Kosovo and Chechnya.

According to the The Japan Press' website, Yamamoto joined CS broadcasting Asahi Newstar in 1990 and helped produce documentaries and news programmes.

In 1995, she moved to The Japan Press and reported on the lives of oppressed Afghan women in addition to covering conflict areas. During her time there, Yamamoto's use of handheld video cameras helped her become a pioneer of Japanese video journalism.

In 2004, the Vaughn-Uyeda prize committee awarded Yamamoto and Sato with a special prize for their coverage of the Iraq War, particularly their reports on Iraqi citizens who were traumatised by bombings.

In November last year, Yamamoto was chosen as an independent consultant to the Government Revitalisation Unit and was tasked with reducing wasteful spending.

She was reported as asking a senior Foreign Ministry official hard-hitting questions on diplomatic missions abroad, such as "What kind of strategies do you use when establishing an embassy?"


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