Photographers' Blog

All at sea – tales from Korea’s disputed border

Baengnyeong, South Korea

By Damir Sagolj

 A blue dot on a map shows a phone's current position on the island of Baengnyeong that lies just on the South Korean side of the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the Yellow Sea April 13, 2014. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Look at the little blue dot showing a current position on a map: that is the island of Baengnyeong. The map might suggest this outcrop is deep inside North Korea but it’s not. The hand in the picture is mine, the phone with its high-speed internet connection is also mine, and the barbed wire is South Korean.

Baengnyeong – like a few other islands I visited recently – lies on the South’s side of the disputed maritime boundary that separates the two Koreas at sea. Known as the Northern Limit Line, it is an extension of the more famous land border between North and South Korea – the Demilitarized Zone or DMZ – but it curves further to the north. It is the line between two fierce neighbors whose war started over six decades ago and never really ended.

I had seen many pictures of the DMZ but very few of the NLL. The DMZ looks scary but familiar: it is the world’s most heavily armed border, and the only serious boundary remaining from the Cold War.

While recent news from Ukraine suggests that similar borders could soon be drawn elsewhere, the frontier between the Koreas is the real thing: an impenetrable line dividing two different worlds that used to be one.

Life along this border at sea was unknown to me. I had seen only a few news pictures after previous deadly incidents or artillery duels between the Koreas.

Afghanistan – ten years of coverage

Kabul, Afghanistan

By Tim Wimborne

It’s now widely accepted that the latest war in Afghanistan has not gone well. As an intermittent visitor here over the past 10 years, several differences are visible to my western eyes, but I keep realising how much there still is in common with the Kabul of a decade ago.

I had not long been on staff at Reuters when I was given my first assignment in Afghanistan. That was the spring of 2004. Back then, there were perhaps more people of foot in the city and fewer cars. There were certainly not as many cell phones and Internet cafes as there are today.

Now, the country’s presidential election, which is supposed to mark the first democratic power-transfer in Afghanistan’s history, is just a few days away and heightened security ahead of the vote makes a big difference to the way Kabul looks. Security was also an issue in 2004, but the threat of violence was much less great, and I could travel outside the city without too much concern.

Bureaucrats in a conflict zone

Bangui, Central African Republic

By Joe Penney

On Thursday, the volatile Central African Republic was host to a bloodbath. Hours of fighting between the former “Seleka” rebels that took power in a March coup d’etat and local militia and fighters loyal to the deposed president, Francois Bozize, killed over a hundred. As the situation continues to deteriorate, France is set to take a bigger role in its former colony’s security, sending hundreds of troops in the coming days.

Yet while security is what is grabbing the headlines at the moment, CAR’s problems lie much deeper. Already an unstable state in the run-up to the coup, the Central African government is now in tatters and just going through the motions. During the coup, most ministry buildings were looted for cash, computers and anything hungry rebels could get their hands on. Little has since been replaced.

The Seleka rebels stole a computer from a state laboratory containing vital information on HIV patients’ medication. They even stole the minister of commerce’s car.

Learning to walk again after Afghanistan

San Antonio, Texas

By Jim Urquhart

With each step he learns to take he is that much closer to achieving independence. All he wants is to once again be able to be a soldier in the infantry.

Sergeant (Sgt.) Matt Krumwiede has endured about 40 surgeries since June 12th, 2012, when he stepped on a IED while on patrol in Afghanistan.

GALLERY: AFTER AFGHANISTAN

During that time he has fought hard to regain his mobility since the pressure plate unleashed about 15 pounds of explosives that tore away both his legs above the knees, ripped muscle and bone from his left arm, taking parts of a finger and a whole finger and ripped his abdominal cavity wide open.

Waiting on widow’s island

Geoje, South Korea

By Kim Hong-ji

After Germany was reunited in 1990, Korea has been the highest profile divided country in the world. The division has separated numerous families and made them miss each other. A few months ago, when the relationship between the two Koreas improved after five months of political tension, North Korea proposed a reunion ceremony for families who have been separated by the Korean War. Then it abruptly cancelled the ceremony, disappointing the families who have been waiting to reunite with long-lost relatives. Lots of separated families in the two Koreas are still living in great hope that they will be able to meet their loved ones some day.

Geoje island is a small and remote place in South Korea where 18 fisherman were abducted by North Korea while fishing in the disputed West Sea in December, 1972. Forty one years later, little is known about these husbands and sons, how they were abducted or where they may be living in North Korea. I only came to know about this incident when I heard one of the abducted fishermen, Jeon Wook-pyo, 68, escaped from North Korea and returned to South Korea a few months ago. I could not locate him and there is an ongoing investigation by the government. He was abducted 10 years before I was born and I had limited information to follow. Instead, I met a few grandmothers still living in a town heavy with grief for their lost family members. A widow who lost her husband and a mother who lost her child; just wishing they can be reunited in the town some day.

Kim Jeom-sun, 82, who lost her husband when he was abducted in 1972. She is now a grandmother living alone in a 10-square-yard house in Busan, east of the island. She left the island some twenty years ago due to the stigma – as if her husband was a betrayer who fled to the North. Much time has passed since then, but her memories stay with her. A few pictures hanging on the wall keep the memories lingering in her mind. “I have waited and waited until now.. even if he died in North Korea. I still wait for him.”

A night in a bunker

Ilmenau, Germany

By Ina Fassbender

One Saturday morning I began to time travel for 16 hours to a place in eastern Germany, traveling to the time of the former DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik), to the time of two countries and two armies. To the bunker museum at Rennsteighoehe, in the middle of the Thueringer forest. It is owned by the “Waldhotel Rennsteighoehe”, which offers a ‘reality event’ weekend, to sleep one night in a bunker built by the ministry for national security MfS, wear a NVA (Nationale Volksarmee or National People’s Army) uniform and be treated like a former DDR soldier for the night.

I arrived in the middle of the forest with 14 others taking part in this reality event. First, everybody had to choose trousers, jackets, belts and caps. A gas mask was essential. Then a man, who looked like a major, appeared with a frightening look in his eyes and scolded us with severe words, exhorting us to find the bunker some 30 kms (18 miles) away. So we walked with our luggage through the forest. We were happy to find the bunker after only 100 meters (yards). At a closed gate a man, who had the look of a former NVA officer, welcomed us with no warm words. Rather he gave commands like in former times.

GALLERY: INSIDE A GERMAN BUNKER

At that moment I remembered my first meeting with the NVA. I visited friends in Berlin in 1986 and had to use the 200 km (124 miles) transit motorway through the former DDR. At the customs inspection I waited for many hours; don’t do anything, stay calm, don’t smile, be serious. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, there was the moment NVA soldiers had to control me. I was in fear. They looked into my eyes, asked me where I wanted to go, how long would I stay there, what was the reason, was I smuggling something? They went away for 10 minutes with my pass. When they returned they uttered no words, inspected the car and my baggage inside and out. It took around 15 minutes and then I was on my way to Berlin. They found nothing.

Somalia’s gradual healing

Mogadishu, Somalia

By Feisal Omar

After 22 years, Somalia clearly shows signs of recuperating from the deep wounds of civil-war and insurgency.

The emergence of a recognized Somali government has positively changed life; particularly in the city which was mostly an Islamist stronghold two years ago. Somalis in the diaspora have returned for the first time and run various kinds of businesses: contemporary hotels, restaurants and shops. The arrival of Turkish companies that busily repair the ruined roads and mass construction of apartments teaches one of the rebirth of Somalia.

The court hearings and traffic police who whistle and wave police sticks to stop cars prove that there is relative law and order in the city. Although explosions can go off any moment at any place, you can still feel peace as you drive on the well-lit streets of Mogadishu as late as midnight.

20 years covering conflict: Goran Tomasevic

As in the ruins of Beirut, Sarajevo or Stalingrad, the conflict in Syria is a sniper’s war. Men stalk their fellow man down telescopic sights on suburban streets, hunting a glimpse of flesh, an eyeball peering from a crack, using decoys to draw their prey into giving themselves away.

During weeks spent tracking the fluid frontline of the battle, veteran war photographer Goran Tomasevic provided daily evidence of an escalating conflict that the UN estimates has killed 100,000 people. Tomasevic photographed with exceptional proximity as combatants mounted complex attacks, managed logistics, treated their wounded, buried their dead – and died before his eyes.

This special package has been sent to coincide with an exhibition of Goran’s award winning work at Visa Pour L’image, the premiere international photojournalism festival. This exhibition was curated by Ayperi Karabuda Ecer.

Helpless in an explosion’s wake

Kabul, Afghanistan

By Omar Sobhani

Last Friday was a public holiday here in Afghanistan but I was on call and had gone for lunch in Kabul with my friends. Our relaxing day was interrupted by a huge explosion.

It took little time to figure out what was going on. As on most days, working or not, I carry my cameras so I jumped in my car and rushed towards the noise. My colleague Mohammad Ismail, who was enjoying a day off also, heard the explosion and called me as I headed towards the scene saying that he was coming to help cover the story. I spoke to my text and TV colleagues at Reuters bureau although the sound of the attack was too loud to hear easily but they were well aware of the incident.

As a safety measure I kept colleagues in the bureau informed of our plans and movements.

Parallel world of Chechnya

Grozny, Chechnya

By Maxim Shemetov

What did I know about Chechnya before last week? For someone who grew up in the 1990s the very word Chechnya meant a string of grainy images on TV showing people in battered camouflage outfits, shooting at each other amid destruction and ruin. Fear, wahhabis, Shamil Basayev, terrorism, mountains: these were the words that used to spring to my mind when someone mentioned Chechnya.

It still has a reputation as a frightening place where people get kidnapped and entire villages are razed. When I told my friends I was leaving for Chechnya on assignment they asked me in jest if I would need an armored vehicle. Many of then were visibly worried. But then I spoke to a colleague who had worked there for more than 15 years. He said: “You won’t find a safer place in Russia, be smart and you’ll be okay”.

I flew to Grozny, with mixed expectations. When we got there and I stepped out of Grozny’s Severny Airport, I knew this wasn’t Russia. It was a totally different, parallel world, a cross between Singapore and the Middle East, with veiled women, men in camouflage, Islamic skull caps and long beards, and armed police on every street corner. There was a mosque outside the main airport terminal. A huge portrait of Chechnya’s strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov was just across the street, and another, smaller portrait of Russian president Vladimir Putin close by. The streets were spotless, a rarity in Russia where many cities are full of potholes and crumbling buildings. I got into a taxi and plunged into Grozny.