Maj. Gen. Fonseka reproves Jaffna media

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 21 October 2003, 11:36 GMT]
Commander of Sri Lankan armed forces in Jaffna, Maj. Gen. Sarath Foneseka told a group of northern journalists Tuesday that newspapers in the peninsula publish “half information’ and distorted reports intended to make people angry at the military. Speaking to representatives of the North Ceylon Journalists’ Association about recent attacks on media persons in Jaffna by Sri Lankan armed forces soldiers, he said: “We are not hundred percent happy about the way media people in Jaffna are carrying out their jobs”.

The meeting was arranged by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission at its office in Temple Road in Jaffna town. Senior Police officers for Jaffna were also present at the meeting.

The North Ceylon Journalist Association was represented by Mr. S. kathirkamathamby (President) Mr. K. Satheesh, Mr A.N. S Thiruchelvam and Mr. Ratnam Thayaparan.

Addressing the journalists further Maj. Gen. Sarath Foneseka said: “We don’t have any intention of attacking, assaulting any media people. But I also must tell you at the same time we are not hundred percent happy about the way media people in Jaffna are carrying out their jobs. We not being happy with media and media people has nothing to do with this. ”

Gen. Foneseka speaking to journalists. Ms. Ericcson (right)

He said that newspapers in Jaffna do not give the correct picture of the situation there and that the news they publish is “half information (sic) and distorted” intended to make people angry at the Sri Lankan armed forces.

He slammed TamilNet too for its coverage of problems faced by people whose villages have been garrisoned by the Sri Lanka army in Jaffna. He queried as to why no one is writing about 50000 derelict houses in Jaffna that lie outside the military’s high security zones.

(According to the Jaffna Government Agent almost all derelict houses in Jaffna outside these high security zones are either occupied by the Sri Lankan armed forces or by refugees)

The Jaffna Sri Lankan armed forces commander also criticised some reports in the TamilNet about him and his troops.

“I can provide proof from articles in Jaffna papers in the last month to show how unfair you have been. I just mentioned this for you to know that you also have to make some effort to change this situation. This is why the media (in Jaffna) haven’t got the confidence of the security forces”, he said.

Gen. Foneseka said he would, however, leave a margin for ‘other pressures’ on Jaffna journalists for not ‘reporting correctly’.

Referring to Sri Lanka army soldiers attacking journalists covering the recent melee in the outskirts of Jaffna town, Gen. Foneseka said: “Sometimes we are forced to use tear gas, rubber bullets and baton charge. We use the word minimum force in such situations. When troops baton charge the media calls it an attack”.

“If media people were inside the mobs then you also would have had to face the baton charge and the rubber bullets. You happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. You have to take precautions. It is not like covering a peaceful event, an inauguration or a cultural show. We do not allow people to take photographs of soldiers and officers”, the Jaffna SF commander cautioned the journalists.

He charged that that the media did not refer to the fact that crowds threw stones, ‘petrol bombs’ (a simpler version of the Molotov Cocktail), sticks etc., at the security forces during the recent melees in the suburbs of Jaffna town.

“Journalists should inform us as an organised body when they want to cover an incident. Then we can take a certain amount of responsibility for your safety. Otherwise we cannot provide you safety.

Referring to the murder of the well-known Jaffna journalist, Mr. Mylvaganam Nimalarajan, Maj. Gen. Foneseka said: “Security forces had nothing to do with this. It was a political killing. We understand your emotions towards this incident. There are various hidden hands… forces in the south”.

Mr. Kathirkamathamby (extreme left) speaking to Gen. Foneseka (to his left is Col. Alwis and to the right is Ms. Carina Ericcson, head of Jaffna SLMM

He said that certain parties operating in the south, which he called “half militant, militant”, were behind Mr. Nimalrajan’s murder. (Media activists allege that EPDP, a paramilitary group based in Colombo and closely allied to President Chandrika Kumaratunga, was involved in the journalist’s murder)

That “governments in the south” have failed to arrest the murderers does not mean the Sri Lankan security forces had any complicity in the killing, Gen. Foneseka claimed.


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