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Fri Aug 01 15:56:09 SAST 2014

Libya lied about Hammerl: Minister

Sapa | 20 May, 2011 11:030 Comments

Image by: REUTERS/Henry Romero

Libyan officials lied about photographer Anton Hammerl to the SA government, International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said on Friday.

"We kept getting reassured at the highest level that he was alive until his colleagues were released and shared the information yesterday (Wednesday)," she told reporters in Pretoria.

"We are disappointed that were not informed by Libyan authorities, but from the journalists who were with him."

Earlier international relations spokesman Clayson Monyela said the SA government did not know photographer Hammerl had been shot dead.

News of his death came as a shock, he added.

"We didn't know where he was... [but] we were working on the assumption that he was alive," Monyela told Sapa.

He said the minister had sent officials, including the South African ambassador, back to Tripoli in Libya to try and ascertain his whereabouts and ultimately try and negotiate his release.

Monyela said the department had days ago already clarified a quote in The Star newspaper by International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane that he was alive. Monyela said the minister did not say that. She said the department was working on the assumption he was alive.

It was "really unfair" to blame the SA government for the situation now, he added. He pointed out that a report a few weeks ago claiming that two independent sources said he was safe, had come from the Austrian government, not from South African officials.

Hammerl was a South African with Austrian parents.

The opposition DA on Friday questioned the South African government's role in communicating news about Hammerl.

It emerged on Friday morning that he was killed on the day of his capture, more than six weeks ago, despite government assurances that he was safe.

The Libyan government had for weeks said Hammerl, 41, was alive and said he would be released on Wednesday.

His family only found out about his death on Thursday evening, after being contacted by two journalists who were with him and who said he was shot in the Libyan desert.

"It is unclear what the South African government did or did not know. It is, however, simply unfathomable, and difficult to contemplate, that the minister of international relations would have given the family false hope, by claiming Mr Hammerl was still alive, last week," Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said in a statement.

"It is equally galling that the minister cancelled an emergency meeting on this matter because, in the words of department spokesperson, Clayson Monyela, she had 'election commitments'."

But Monyela told Sapa the meeting was postponed to Friday morning because of the elections.

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