Xavier Baron ends 4 decades on journalism's frontline

29th September 2007, Comments 0 comments

29 September 2007, PARIS (AFP) - Xavier Baron, an internationally respected journalist, retired on Friday after 41 years at Agence France-Presse during which he was imprisoned by 'Emperor' Bokassa in Africa, held hostage by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and covered wars around the world.

29 September 2007

PARIS (AFP) - Xavier Baron, an internationally respected journalist, retired on Friday after 41 years at Agence France-Presse during which he was imprisoned by 'Emperor' Bokassa in Africa, held hostage by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and covered wars around the world.

Baron, who held just about every top editorial position at AFP, is a renowned Middle East specialist and was reporting on the conflict in Iraq only a few months ago.

He joined AFP at the age of 24 in 1966 and only a year later became director of the bureau in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, where Jean Bokassa was president in the years before he declared himself emperor.

Bokassa imprisoned the young journalist for a few days over a story put on the AFP wire but also invited Baron to one of his cabinet meetings.

In 1970, as a special envoy in Cambodia, Baron was detained by the genocidal Khmer Rouge near the Angkor Wat temples.

After 47 days in detention, Baron was released without giving in to demands that he sign a statement supporting the Khmer Rouge's "just war" for control of the Southeast Asian nation, which they eventually took in 1975.

At first, it was thought that Baron had been wounded in Cambodia and when he heard of the reports Bokassa even announced that the reporter had been killed and ordered a minute's silence in Baron's memory.

Back from Asia, Baron started a series of reporting missions across the Middle East. He was in Amman for Black September in 1970 when King Hussein battled Palestinian groups who had tried to assassinate and depose him.

Baron was also based in Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, and especially Beirut for the Lebanon War. In August 1982, he was in Beirut when Israeli forces surrounded and bombarded the Lebanese capital, hitting the AFP bureau.

Baron had periodically to leave the cellar below the office to try to reach AFP in Paris by telephone to dictate stories.

"Everything around me is devastated. The floor of my office has been raised several centimetres by the explosion at the Italian Cultural Centre below. The wall of one of the rooms is riddled with holes," he said in one.

"We are continuing to listen to the radio, our ears stuck to the transistor. People are not complaining. There is nothing left to complain about. They are just trying to survive."

Journalists and others who have worked with him, particularly in Lebanon, have highlighted his calmness in a crisis and his professionalism.

As a Middle East specialist, Baron has written what is considered one of the reference books on the Palestinian conflict, "The Palestinians: A People", which has been reprinted several times in its French edition.

Baron was also the AFP bureau chief in Bangkok, Rome and Madrid, as well as chief editor for agency and director of the Middle East region.

AFP

Subject: French news

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