Photographers' Blog

In exile with the President

Urgent news flash! Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has returned to the country after 82 days in exile. I kiss my wife and son. “Bye, see you soon.” I rush out without a shower and without socks. The first information places Zelaya in the U.N. building in Tegucigalpa. It must be true.

Fifteen minutes later 50 supporters are cheering victory for Zelaya outside the building. His closest allies appear making gestures of triumph. Zelaya has returned, but it soon becomes obvious that he isn’t exactly there. The lie is a strategy to confuse the de facto state security that had blocked his previous attempts to return. Suddenly one demonstrator screams, “To the Brazilian embassy!” And I follow.

Supporters of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya gather after learning of his return, outside the embassy of Brazil in Tegucigalpa September 21, 2009. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Hundreds of his followers pack so tightly in the doorway that they seem about to asphyxiate themselves. The door opens and I push with all my might to within two steps of the entrance but the mob is too much. The door closes and I am being smothered until a local colleague pulls me free. A minute later I try again and manage to enter completely, gasping. I race inside as if I was returning home.

Today, as I write this, it is that same embassy that I have been calling “home” ever since.

A day at the front line in Sri Lanka

Access for foreign journalists to Asia’s longest running civil war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and government troops, is very tightly controlled by the Sri Lankan government. Getting near the front line area known as the ‘No Fire Zone’ is only possible with an officially sanctioned trip organized by the Ministry of Defence. Last Friday, April 24, I went on one.

The trip started at 3.30am, when I arrived at the military air base in Colombo. We went through 3 security checks, before boarding our plane at 6.30am. We flew north for about 30 minutes to a small airstrip at a place called Mankulam. From here, we boarded two Mi-8 helicopters. To avoid any ground fire, the choppers fly at maximum speed just above the height of the tallest trees, and when I say just, I mean scraping the leaves. This fast and furious ride lasted just 30 minutes to the town of Kilinochchi.

We had a quick briefing, and then we set off in a convoy of armored personnel carriers towards the front. The carrier that I got into was a very old, clunky thing of which there was not much evidence of suspension. The roads in the area had suffered 25 years of a civil war, and were in seriously bad condition. Myself and and a TV cameraman tried our best to grab pictures as we sped along at around 50 miles/h but we were being thrown around so much, even for me to get the camera up to my face and see through it, was near impossible. We held on the best we could, and I managed to get a few ‘usable’ frames of a scorched and destroyed landscape. Every single dwelling was either destroyed or uninhabitable. It reminded me of East Timor in 1999. Burnt out vehicles lined the road. What was most noticeable was the absence of people. There were simply no civilians anywhere.

  • Editors & Key Contributors