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BBC Appeals to Afghan Factions: Don’t Kill Journalists

August 17, 1994

LONDON (AP) _ The BBC World Service, stunned by the murder of its top Afghanistan correspondent, appealed Wednesday to the country’s rival warlords not to kill reporters.

″We don’t have our own guns to go out and take revenge. We only have our limited moral authority ... and the weapon of publicity,″ Bob Jobbins, the World Service’s editor, told reporters in London.

Mirwais Jalil, 25, the BBC’s best-known correspondent in Afghanistan, was abducted at gunpoint and murdered two weeks ago after a tense interview with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the country’s renegade prime minister.

Jobbins said senior editor Nick Nugent was traveling to Kabul, the besieged Afghan capital, to deliver letters to President Burhanuddin Rabbani and his main rival for power, Hekmatyar, and other faction leaders in hopes of gaining guarantees.

Jobbins’ letter asks for ″an undertaking that you will do everything in your power to protect journalists operating in or passing through territory over which you have control.″

Ettore Mo, an Italian newspaper journalist who traveled with Jalil that day and watched five gunmen abduct him, said Jalil had been intimidated by the warlord, but left jubilant that he had secured the interview.

″Hekmatyar spent much of the interview reproaching him for the way he was reporting events in Afghanistan. He said Jalil was unfair and biased and even accused him of taking bribes from the government.

″Jalil had reported the rocket attack on a hospital, the killing of innocents, and military defeats for Hekmatyar’s forces. Jalil told Hekmatyar that he was an eyewitness to these events, that they were true. Hekmatyar, of course, did not like this.″

The BBC would not say who it blames for the killing July 29. His body was found the next day, riddled with about 20 bullets, south of Kabul within Hekmatyar-controlled territory.

An Afghani who fled with his parents to neighboring Pakistan after the 1980 Soviet invasion, Jalil spoke fluent Persian and Pashto, the two main languages in the country.

When the seven-faction coalition of muhajeddin defeated the Communist government in 1992, he assisted foreign journalists covering Afghanistan, then became a journalist himself. After civil war erupted, his BBC reports were heard by millions in a nation where order and objective domestic media are nonexistent.

He also filed some reports for The Associated Press.

″People would crowd around us in the streets as soon as they heard Mirwais’ name,″ said Suzy Price, BBC radio correspondent in Kabul in 1992 and 1993. ″Mirwais was determined that the world should know what was going on inside his country.″

The World Service broadcasts worldwide in 39 languages from London and maintains five reporters in and around Afghanistan, but now has no fluent Pashto- or Persian-speaking reporter in the capital.

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