Penny Sukhraj, pictured here with husband Anton Hammerl

Johannesburg - The family of slain Saturday Star photographer Anton Hammerl are hopeful that his remains will be identified by a Sarajevo DNA laboratory which has set out to identify the remains of some of the thousands of people who are missing after years of conflict in Libya.

This week the laboratory, run by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), which, through its work in the Balkans, has become a world leader in the field, has generated more than 100 DNA matches since the fall of the regime of slain dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

According to the, the DNA matches have been made from bone and blood samples submitted to the ICMP by the new Libyan authorities.

Hammerl was shot and killed by troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi outside of Brega on April 5, 2011 while covering the civil war in Libya.

After his death, Hammerl’s family was led to believe by the Gaddafi regime that he was alive and safe but held in detention in Libya.

His family learnt about his death on May 19 after the release of a group of journalists who had been with Hammerl when he was killed.

According to media reports, on the morning of April 5, 2011, three other reporters were attacked by Libyan soldiers who shot at them in a remote desert location outside Brega.

These included two Americans – James Foley, a freelance reporter and regular contributor to the Global Post, and Clare Morgana Gillis, a freelance reporter – as well as Spanish photographer Manu Brabo.

When the shooting started, Foley and Gillis both heard Hammerl yell out, “Help!” Hammerl was killed and the other three journalists were beaten by the pro-Gaddafi forces and then taken as their prisoners.

In November last year, the ICMP and the Libyan government signed an agreement to co-operate on missing persons cases from the recent conflicts, as well as from Gaddafi’s 42-year regime. So far, 115 DNA matches have been made.

The blood and bone samples are from the notorious case of the Bin Jawad mass grave, in which about 170 bodies were found in December 2011.

The ICMP compared the DNA profiles of post-mortem samples with blood samples obtained from families of the missing.

The Libyan authorities will now inform the families of the missing that their relatives have been identified and legally close the cases.

Although Hammerl’s family had not yet received news about his remains this week, his wife, Penny Sukhraj, is hopeful.

ICMP’s director-general, Kathryne Bomberger, said the ICMP was committed to assisting the Libyan government in continuing to develop its capability to address this painful issue.

“As we do so, we are also assisting them through using our capacity to conduct high-throughput DNA identification testing to assist in resolving large numbers of missing persons cases.

“We hope that by expediting this process, we will bring long-awaited answers to families of the missing who have waited to learn the fate of their loved ones,” said Bomberger.

Jibril Hamed, who is in charge of the identification process at the Ministry for the Affairs of Families of Martyrs and Missing Persons, said that there could be up to 10 000 people missing in Libya – from the recent conflict, as well as those missing from the 1977 war with Egypt, the 1978 war with Uganda, the 1980-1987 wars with Chad and the 1996 Abu Salim Prison massacre.

Saturday Star