Reporter killed in Syria a tough, careful veteran

Kyodo, JIJI

Mika Yamamoto, an award-winning veteran journalist who was killed Monday during fighting in Aleppo in northern Syria, had a reputation of being a tough and careful reporter, according to her peers.

Yamamoto was known for her coverage of conflict zones, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Uganda, and was a leading video journalist in Japan.

“She was a veteran. She could cover anything,” said freelance journalist Takeharu Watai, 41, who has also reported from conflict zones. “She was careful in doing her coverage. I can’t believe (she has died).”

Jiro Ishimaru of the journalist group Asia Press said: “She wasn’t a reckless type. (Her death) could mean that the Syrian clash was so fierce that even she could not have avoided the accident.”

Ishimaru said Yamamoto and her partner, Kazutaka Sato, a freelance journalist, may have been among the most experienced Japanese journalists covering battle zones.

Among the stories she covered were those of women living in Afghanistan under Taliban rule and people living in Baghdad during air raids in the Iraq war.

A staff member at a Japanese broadcaster for which Yamamoto worked as a field reporter in Iraq in fall 2003, said: “Yamamoto was small and delicate-looking, but she was actually a very tough person.

“All male staff took their hats off to the way Yamamoto held on even when a combat vehicle attacked a hotel room next to hers.”

Yamamoto’s 77-year-old father, Hiroshi, told reporters at his home in Tsuru, Yamanashi Prefecture: “I want to see her soon. I’m proud of her.” She was the second oldest of his three daughters.

Yamamoto said he heard the news of his daughter’s death from Sato over the phone at around 9 a.m., adding that the last email he received from her was sent from Turkey near the Syrian border on Aug. 15.

In response to her father’s message, titled, “Praying for your safety,” she replied, “I’m now in a peaceful rural town that has nothing to do with the conflict.”

“She is not a war journalist, but rather a human journalist,” Hiroshi Yamamoto said. His daughter was determined to “come home alive to tell the real stories of women and children in battlefields.”

“She always talked about the miseries of people involved in conflicts, human lives and world peace,” said her father, himself a former newspaperman.

She was “a far better journalist than I was,” he said.

Mika Yamamoto received the special prize of the Vaughn-Uyeda Memorial Prize for contributions by Japanese journalists in the field of international affairs in fiscal 2003.

“After all, my expertise is covering battle zones. I like the sensation of tension I feel when coming back in one piece after covering a story in a difficult and dangerous situation,” Yamamoto, who also covered wars in Kosovo and Chechnya, was once quoted as saying.

At a symposium in Japan, Yamamoto told a group of junior high school students about children in battle zones who had said they aimed to realize a society where there are no wars.

She then called on the students to “make efforts for the continuation of a safe and free society, noting that there are people actually suffering (from conflicts) around the world.”