Two killed, several injured or missing in South Ossetia

New York, August 11, 2008–Two journalists were reported killed, at least eight were injured, and two have gone missing since fighting erupted between Georgian, Russian, and local forces in the disputed region of South Ossetia. No press-related casualties have been immediately reported in the conflict in another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia.

The Moscow-based broadcaster Echo Moskvy, citing an interview with a Russian Newsweek reporter, first reported that photojournalists Alexander Klimchuk and Grigol Chikhladze had been killed in South Ossetia on Sunday. Russian Newsweek reporter Orkhan Dzhemal told Ekho Moskvy and the Moscow daily Kommersant that the journalists came under attack by South Ossetian militia after entering the conflict zone from Georgia.

Klimchuk is listed as head of the Tbilisi-based photo agency, Caucasus Images, and Chikhladze is listed as an agency journalist, according to the agency’s Web site.

A CPJ source in Georgia said today that he had spoken to colleagues of the men, and that they had confirmed the deaths. According to multiple Russian press reports, Chikhladze was on assignment for Russian Newsweek and Klimchuk was on assignment for the Russian news agency Itar Tass. A person answering the phone at the Moscow-based Russian Newsweek said no one was immediately available for comment. Calls to Itar Tass were not answered.

“We are saddened by the reported deaths of Alexander Klimchuk and Grigol Chikhladze and send our condolences to their families and friends,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ deputy director. “We call on all sides to respect the presence of journalists in conflict areas and ensure that they can carry out their reporting in safety.”
Kommersant said that reporters Winston Featherly and Temuri Kiguradze of the Tbilisi-based, English-language newspaper The Messenger were injured in the same attack and were hospitalized in North Ossetia. The extent of their injuries was not immediately available.

On Saturday, several reporters were reported injured in a rocket attack as they traveled in a Russian military convoy to the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali. Aleksandr Sladkov, Leonid Losev, and Igor Ukleyin of Russian state television channel Vesti, and Aleksandr Kots from the Moscow-based daily Komsomolskaya Pravda were hospitalized with minor injuries, Ekho Moskvy reported.

On Sunday, Russian NTV producer Peter Gassiyev was injured in an attack by unidentified forces outside Tskhinvali, the news Web site Lenta reported. According to the Turkish Daily News, Turkish journalist Recep Öztürk was wounded in an unrelated attack on Sunday when his car came under fire in South Ossetia. The Russian Interfax news agency said another Turkish journalist, Gurai Irvin Sekints, whose affiliation was not immediately available, was injured in the attack on Tskhinvali, and later hospitalized. 

The Moscow-based news Web site Expert reported that two of its journalists Vyacheslav Kochetkov and Igor Naidenov went missing in Georgia. Ruslan Khistanov, deputy editor of Russky Reporter, a sister publication, told CPJ that his newsroom lost communication with the two journalists when they traveled to Georgia from neighboring Armenia.