Croatian journalist expelled

New York, March 24, 2003— Iraqi officials expelled a Croatian free-lance journalist from Baghdad yesterday after he conducted a live interview with CNN, which was banished from Iraq last week.

Robert Valdec, who had been in Baghdad for three weeks reporting for the Croatian Commercial Network, the Serbian Independent Network, the Bosnian Independent Network, and a variety of other Balkan news outlets, was reprimanded and told to leave the city after speaking on air with CNN from his hotel room on Saturday, March 22.

According to Valdec, who spoke to CPJ today from a hotel room in Amman, Jordan, armed Iraqi officials arrived at his Baghdad hotel room within 20 minutes of the CNN interview. Valdec said he was not in the room at the time but could see the armed guards at his door from an adjacent room.

The general manager of the Information Ministry later asked Valdec to leave Baghdad immediately. Valdec said he persuaded the general manager to allow him to leave on Sunday morning, after the U.S. and coalition bombing campaign had ceased. Iraqi officials escorted Valdec to the Jordanian border.

Valdec is the fifth journalist expelled from Iraq in a week. On March 21, Iraqi officials expelled CNN correspondents Nic Robertson and Rym Barhimi, producer Ingrid Formanek, and cameraman Brian Puchaty in an apparent protest over the network’s coverage.

In Baghdad, most foreign journalists are confined to the Palestine Hotel; a few are believed to remain in the Al-Mansour and Al-Rashid hotels. According to The New York Times, American intelligence analysts say that a secret communications bunker exits beneath the Al-Rashid, making the hotel a potential U.S. target. Foreign journalists continued to be barred from reporting outside their hotels without Iraqi government “minders.”

In other developments, ITV News crew members Fred Nerac and translator Hussein Othman, remain missing after disappearing in southern Iraq over the weekend when their vehicles came under apparent coalition gunfire. ITN confirmed that ITV News correspondent Terry Lloyd, who had been traveling with the crew, had been killed .