Two Reuters TV journalists missing in Syria

Sun Mar 27, 2011 2:10pm EDT

* Two Lebanese had been in Syria since Thursday

* Last contact as they set off for border on Saturday

LONDON, March 27 (Reuters) - Two Reuters television journalists have been missing in Syria since Saturday night, when they were due to return to Lebanon.

Beirut-based producer Ayat Basma and cameraman Ezzat Baltaji had been expected to cross into Lebanon by road at approximately 1830 GMT on Saturday, where they had arranged for a taxi to pick them up from the border.

The last known contact was at 1722 GMT, when Baltaji sent a phone message to a colleague in Beirut in which he said: "We will leave now."

Basma and Baltaji, both Lebanese nationals, travelled to Syria on Thursday afternoon. Mass protests that erupted 10 days ago have posed the biggest challenge to President Bashar al-Assad's 11-year rule.

The two journalists have been unreachable by telephone since Saturday night.

Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler said: "Reuters is deeply concerned about our two Reuters television colleagues who went missing in Syria on Saturday. We have reached out to the relevant authorities in Syria and have asked for their help in securing our colleagues' safe return home."

A Syrian official told Reuters on Sunday that authorities were working on resolving the issue.

A senior Reuters editor plans to travel to Damascus to discuss the matter formally with Syrian officials.

Basma, who has gone on reporting assignments in Tunisia, Egypt and Iraq, has been with Reuters since February 2007. Baltaji has worked for the company since April 2008.

On Friday, Syrian authorities withdrew the accreditation of Reuters text correspondent Khaled Yacoub Oweis, saying he had filed "unprofessional and false" coverage of events in Syria.

Reuters said it stood by its coverage from Syria, where more than a week of protests have spread from the south to other parts of the country.

Reuters, part of New York-based Thomson Reuters, the leading information provider, employs some 3,000 journalists worldwide.

Reporting in English, Arabic and more than a dozen other languages, Reuters has had bureaux across the Middle East for well over a century. (Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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