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GENEVA (Reuters) - At least 46 journalists have died while reporting the news in 21 countries this year, with Somalia and Mexico the most dangerous places for media, according to the International News Safety Institute (INSI).
But the Brussels-based body, which tracks killings and deaths of journalists and their aides around the world, said the once-high casualty rate in Iraq was dwindling rapidly with the relative decline in violence in the country.
Up to the end of July, six Somali reporters for local and foreign news organizations had been killed, while two journalists taken hostage in 2008 remained in captivity 11 months later, INSI said.
"But the situation in Mexico is causing grave concern with at least three deaths confirmed and three more under investigation," said the organization, which is backed by major media and professional bodies around the globe.
Three journalists had each died in Pakistan, Iraq and Philippines, it said. INSI noted a key media body in Sri Lanka reported 34 journalists and media workers have been killed there since the present government came to power in 2004.
The toll of at least 46 by July 31 -- which includes cameramen and photographers -- compared with 109 in 36 countries for the whole of 2008. INSI counts accidental deaths while on reporting assignments in its figures.
It quoted the Colombo-based Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka as saying that, apart from the 34 dead, 10 journalists had been abducted over the same period and more than 50 had gone into exile, fearing persecution.
INSI itself records two deaths there this year -- including the assassination in January of Lasantha Wickramatunga, editor-in-chief of the independent Sunday Leader and a critic of both government and the now defeated Tamil Tiger rebels.
The organization -- a charity which provides courses around the globe for mainly developing country journalists on how to minimize danger while reporting -- said the decline in media deaths in Iraq was tremendously encouraging.
Up until the end of last year, 252 journalists and their aides had been killed in the country since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003. In the first seven months of last year a total of 11 had died.
(Details of the incidents recorded by INSI and information about the courses it offers are available on its website: www./newssafety.org)
Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Sophie Hares