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Sniper's Bullet Kills U.S. Television Producer Near Sarajevo Airport : Balkans: ABC's David Kaplan was covering Yugoslav Prime Minister Panic's visit to the Bosnian capital.

August 14, 1992|From Associated Press

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — An ABC-TV producer was killed Thursday when a sniper's bullet struck him on his first day of covering one of the most dangerous journalistic assignments in decades.

David Kaplan, 45, died within hours of arriving in the Bosnian capital with an ABC television crew accompanying Milan Panic, an American businessmen who last month became prime minister of Yugoslavia.

Kaplan was hit while riding in the back seat of a van taking him on the perilous route from the airport to the headquarters of the U.N. Protection Force. Part of the route has been dubbed "sniper alley."

Veteran ABC reporter Sam Donaldson, who was traveling in the motorcade in a different car, said, "David probably never had a chance.

"He had lost too much blood and the bullet had done too much internal damage," Donaldson said in a shaken voice. "David Kaplan was a good man. He's been my producer for years. He worked with me during the Gulf War. He understood the risks here."

Panic angrily declared that the snipers were "terrorists" out of anyone's control. The identity of the sniper who killed Kaplan was not known.

In addition to the attack on Panic's convoy, a woman was killed and four people were wounded in overnight shelling that hit the main hospital in Sarajevo.

Panic's unexpected trip to Sarajevo did not bring any conclusive results.

Bosnia's Muslims and Croats, a majority of the republic's population, voted Feb. 29 for independence. Since then, Serb fighters who want to remain part of Yugoslavia have captured two-thirds of the country. More than 8,000 people have been killed, and more than a million have fled their homes.

A Bosnian military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Panic offered to recognize Bosnia-Herzegovina's independence if the republic stopped calling for U.N. intervention and accepted Serb territorial gains. Such conditions were unlikely to win Bosnian approval.

The Belgrade regime, which now represents only Serbia and Montenegro, announced Thursday that it is recognizing Slovenia, the first republic to break away from the Yugoslav federation last year. Slovenia has no major territorial or ethnic disputes with Serbia.

The Yugoslav news agency Tanjug quoted Radio Slovenia as calling the recognition an "insignificant act."

Panic said that during his short trip to Sarajevo, he had discussed "how to put peace (forward), how to get rid of snipers."

Kaplan was the first American citizen to be killed while working as a journalist during the fighting in the Balkans. At least 30 journalists have now been killed in the fighting since Yugoslavia began disintegrating in the summer of 1991. Scores of others have been wounded.

Kaplan, who was based in Washington, is survived by his wife Sally, also an ABC employee. He was born in Chicago and graduated from the University of Denver.

The bullet that killed him was fired from a high-powered rifle and smashed through the closed doors of the van between two large taped-on letters spelling "TV." Journalists tape "TV" on their vehicles in an attempt to discourage sniper fire.

The bullet struck Kaplan's back and went through his body. He was not wearing a flak jacket.

Kaplan was rushed to the U.N. headquarters hospital, where he died on the operating table. His body was flown out Thursday afternoon on a C-130 cargo plane to the U.S. Rhein-Main Air Base near Frankfurt, Germany.

In Washington, White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater called Kaplan "an honest, fair, talented and creative journalist" and described his death as a sad and personal loss.

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