Czech journalists gone missing in Iraq

Michal Kubal, Petr Klima, photo: CTK

There is growing concern over the plight of three Czech journalists who went missing in Iraq on Sunday and are believed to have been abducted by rebel Iraqi insurgents. Czech TV reporter Michal Kubal, cameraman Petr Klima and Czech Radio correspondent Vit Pohanka were last heard from on Sunday morning as they were preparing to leave Bagdad for Amman, Jordan to catch their flight home. The man who saw them last was an Iraqi taxi driver who had allegedly been hired to take them to Amman.

Michal Kubal, Petr Klima, photo: CTK
"On Sunday I was driving three Czech journalists to Amman. In the town of Garma, west of Falluja -at around 8.20 am local time - I was stopped by three insurgent rebels. The three Czech journalists were forcibly taken away but as far as I could see they were treated in a humane manner."

The Czech Foreign Ministry has been working on the case around the clock, trying to verify the story and gain more information. The Czech ambassador to Iraq Martin Klepetko is in contact with Iraqi officials -in particular with culture minister Mufid Jazairi, who studied in Czechoslovakia in the past and has taken a special interest in the case. Minister Jazairi told Czech Radio that a special Iraqi team was sent out on Tuesday to investigate the site where the abduction is believed to have taken place.

"My aides will try to find out more on the spot - talk to people living in the vicinity, find out whether someone close by did not happen to see something or hear something that might help us. It will be a fact finding mission and the information that the team gathers will help us to decide what is the best possible course of action. I am not a pessimist and I trust that we can resolve this crisis. I have contacts in various circles which might be able to help."

Vit Pohanka, photo: CTK
The plight of the three Czech journalists is at the forefront of public and media attention with the country's radio and news stations covering the story over and over. Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has assured the public that the ministry is doing everything in its power to bring the three Czech journalists home alive and well.

"The situation is very grave and we do not want to put the three journalists' lives at further risk by releasing unverified information. All I can say at this point is that the ministry is doing everything in its power to bring them home."

One of the three journalists who have gone missing in Iraq is a colleague of ours Vit Pohanka of Czech Radio's main news station Radiozurnal. The atmosphere in the newsroom is tense but his friends and co-workers are hoping and praying for the best. Jiri Hosek is head of Radiozurnal's Foreign Desk and we asked him whether Vit Pohanka had any kind of psychological training to prepare him for such a crisis.

"Not the official training courses such as those organized by the Czech Army - the so called "survival" courses. But I think Vit is one of the most experienced journalists -one of the most experienced foreign correspondents - in the Czech Republic and that makes me feel slightly confident that things will end well."

You mentioned that there was a slight chance, a possibility this might not be the work of insurgent rebels but an economically motivated attack - which would be good news...

"Well, that's pure speculation at this stage. The information about the kidnapping is not yet confirmed. Of course there is now this wave of kidnappings in Iraq which is- most probably- politically motivated. But the incident - the alleged kidnapping - took place on one of the main roads leading from Baghdad to Amman where in the past couple of months organized groups have been attacking foreign convoys or individual cars and their attacks were purely economically motivated. So this suggests that there is a possibility that our colleague Vit and the two guys from Czech TV could also have been targets of such an attack."