Wounded British photographer 'feared leaving Homs'

 

A wounded British photographer would not leave the Syrian besieged city of Homs with a humanitarian organisation for fear it was “not to be trusted”, his wife said.

Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy was injured on Wednesday during the attack which killed war correspondent Marie Colvin but refused to leave the city with the Syrian Red Crescent.

His wife Kate Conroy told BBC Radio 4's Broadcasting House programme her husband had been advised the organisation was “not to be trusted”.

“They refused to leave with them unless they had somebody from the British or French Embassy with them as an escort,” she said.

She spoke as the Government today said “all the necessary work is being done” to secure the return of Mr Conroy and to repatriate Colvin's body.

She continued: “I can understand his rationale for it but having had various conversations with MPs, the Foreign Office and so on, I know they are not going to provide an Embassy official to go with them.

“Now he needs to realise that they have an international profile and that is sufficient protection in its own right to get them out safely.”

The Syrian Red Crescent is working with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to negotiate with the Syrian authorities about the retrieval of wounded and others trapped in the city.

On Friday, teams from the ICRC were deployed to Homs to evacuate seven wounded and 20 women and children.

They have since been trying to re-enter the embattled neighbourhood of Baba Amr which has been devastated by a month of shelling by government forces.

An ICRC spokesman said: “We are attempting to go in the affected area again today. Needs are very urgent and it is absolutely crucial that we are able to enter in order to evacuate people in need of help and to bring in vital assistance.”

Mrs Conroy, from Totnes, Devon, said she could “reluctantly appreciate” the position adopted by the Foreign Office.

She added: “They can't sanction that but, for me, my husband has put his life at risk and the others have.

“I would like it if somebody in that embassy was to say 'forget the protocol, I'm going in and I'm going to help to get them out'.

“But I know that is not going to happen.

“I have asked and I've had quite a heated conversation with an MP and he's been absolute categoric with me that it's not going to happen.”

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show: “We are doing everything we possibly can.

“The Foreign Office have been seeking to negotiate with the Syrian authorities. Our ambassador in Damascus is engaged in trying to do just that.

“It is extremely difficult and the conversations are patchy.”

It is understood that Foreign Office officials are working alongside the French embassy to try to retrieve the journalists. They are said to be pressing the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and working with humanitarian organisations.

Mr Mitchell also called on the Syrian regime of President Bashar al Assad to allow international aid agencies into the city and Baba Amr.

“We are demanding unfettered access for the humanitarian agencies who are there on the ground. We continue to push in every way we possibly can for this unfettered access,” he said.

He indicated Britain would oppose any moves by countries in the region to supply arms to the Syrian rebels, as they demanded at Friday's meeting in Tunis of the international Friends of Syria group.

“We need to stop the fighting, not boost it in any way at all,” he said.

He warned, however, that the regime would be held to account for its actions.

“This is an evil regime that has turned its guns on its own people. It is despicable what's happening and we will hold them to account in every way that we can for the human rights abuses that are going on,” said Mr Mitchell.

Mr Mitchell said there was evidence of people on the ground "infiltrating the Syrian Red Crescent" and "posing an additional danger" to anyone seeking to leave the city.

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