Doctors killed for treating victims

By Andrew Buncombe, John Lichfield, Kim Sengupta

International correspondents look at events from war in Syria, murders in France and elections in Burma.

Aleppo Destroyed - by Kim Sengupta

We came across the doctors while trying to find treatment for our friend Bari, a rebel activist who had been shot during a particularly violent day in Salheddine, on the Aleppo front line.

The wounds, caused by ricocheting bullets, did not look too severe, but there was loss of blood and the worry that we may get stuck on the streets being pounded by artillery and air strikes.

The clinic was an abandoned set of offices into which a constant stream of the injured and dead were being brought. Few staff were on duty and they looked exhausted; the amount of medicine available low; the atmosphere tense with booms of incoming shells not far away.

"We need supplies from the West, we are desperate," said one doctor.

Dr Mahmoud al-Shami continued: "Look, this will sound strange, a medical man saying something like this. But you know, you can only patch up people for so long. Most of the seriously injured we can't save anyway. You realise the only way to end this would be to defeat the Assad regime. But I don't know how many of us will be alive to see that."

A number of doctors had been killed, some of them deliberately. The burned bodies of three were found a few days after their arrest by the Mukhabarat, Syria's secret police, a month previously in June.

Two weeks later a pharmacist died while in detention. All had been accused of helping terrorists; their real crime was to treat victims of the regime.

Three days later, during a regime push to take Salheddine, a young doctor was killed. A group of local men described how troops had arrived and taken away a few pieces of equipment, patients and two doctors. One of them was al-Shami. A month later, after I had left Aleppo, Bari phoned to say the doctor's body had been found, shot and burned.


The Annecy mystery - by John Lichfield

"Yes, you can drive up," the gendarme said. "But you will have to walk the last half a kilometre."

Up that rutted, twisting, beautiful, forest road above Lake Annecy, a British-Iraqi family - a father, a mother, a granny and two small girls - had driven two days earlier.

I was among the first group of journalists allowed to reach the scene. The fallen leaves in the layby at the top of the road were still splattered with blood. You could see the deep gouge in the earth made when a panic-stricken Saad al-Hilli had reversed his BMW into the forest before he was shot twice in the head.

Almost four months on, the mystery of the quadruple murder at Chevaline in September remains.

A targeted killing? Investigators are convinced that the murderer was already on the scene and could not have known the random itinerary of the holidaying al-Hillis that day. Investigations of a family quarrel or an Iraqi connection have come to nothing so far.

The same goes for the French cyclist, Sylvain Mollier, who was trying out a new route and lost his way. Despite insistent reports to the contrary, French investigators say that they are "99.9 per cent" sure that Mollier was not the gunman's prime target.

A professional killer? The gun was an antique: a Swiss army Luger from the 1920s or earlier. It fell apart in the gunman's hands. One of the fragments found at the scene yielded a trace of DNA, which may yet help trace the attacker. On the other hand, it may belong to Zainab al-Hilli, aged 7, who was beaten and left for dead.

Judging by the theories rampaging around on the internet, the public refuses to accept that these vicious murders were the random act of a psychopath, as investigators are now inclined to believe.


Trailing Suu Kyi - by Andrew Buncombe

A week before Burma's historic byelections at the beginning of April, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi had stopped giving interviews but was hitting the campaign trail almost every day. How hard could it be, we reasoned, to sidle up to her, introduce ourselves and get a quick comment.

Hours ahead of a speech in Kawhmu, the sprawling, largely rural constituency south of Rangoon that she was contesting, thousands of flag-waving supporters had lined the hot, dusty road that led to the rally ground.

When her small convoy finally arrived, Suu Kyi would slow down, wave at people through the window of her white SUV, receive bunch after bunch of flowers and move on.

Following on motorcycles, we repeatedly drew alongside her car only for it to pull away again, her security guards warning the photographers not to get too close.

Eventually we were able to reach level with her window and I greeted Suu Kyi, explaining that I was from the Independent newspaper of London.

The Nobel Laureate's smile remained in place and she appeared to give the slightest nod of recognition. But there was to be no interview, no quote, no comment, not that day at least. Her car quickly pulled away again.

The opposition leader may have been a novice when it came to political campaigning, but she was already a master at dealing with the international media.


- Independent

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