Feature Article

Colombo assails SLMM, accuses media bias in refugee figure dispute

[TamilNet, Sunday, 30 April 2006, 16:58 GMT]
While Sri Lanka's President Mr Mahinda Rajapakse drew attention to "propaganda war," Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told the state-run weekly Sunday Observer that the Sri Lanka Government "categorically denies" and dismisses as "outrageous," accusation by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) that security forces were involved in extra- judicial killings in the North-East. Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian, said State's attempt to accuse foreign media of bias is a precursor to enforcing self-censorship. The State wants to deter foreign press from exposing military excesses of Sri Lanka armed forces, he added.

Trial of Peter Zenger
Trial of Peter Zenger: Can an American colonial printer be found guilty of the British law of seditious libel for printing truthful critical statements about government officials?
Colombo was stung by the statement of the SLMM that the air strikes conducted by the Sri Lanka Air Force on Muttur were violations of the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA). The SLMM in a press release issued Saturday said, "The air strikes that were conducted by the Sri Lankan Government in Trincomalee district on Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) targets in Sampoor area on 25 and 26 April 2006 are a clear violation of the Ceasefire Agreement. Article 1.2 of the Ceasefire Agreement clearly states Neither Party shall engage in any offensive military operation."

The statement continued "We also fear that Government Security forces have, in the North and the East, been involved in extra-judicial killings of civilians. This conviction is based on our observation and inquiries on the ground."

This came in the wake of President Mahinda Rajapakse’s statements to an all-party meeting on Friday. "Now we are confronted with a more dangerous war that is the propaganda war.” (AFP) He went on to complain that the LTTE were trying to portray as "a great crime" the government's response in the face of rebel attacks.

State run newspapers and the nationalist Island took the cue and accused foreign journalists of biased coverage.

BBC Reporters Dumeetha Luthra and Michael Voss had earlier reported "Tamil Tigers say more than 40,000 people were displaced as refugees after the latest air strike."

Dumeetha Luthra was excoriated in an editorial that appeared in the Sunday Observer. "British broadcasting probably had its sorriest hour yet since its creation. The Beeb represented by Dumeetha Luthra in this country, hurriedly divested itself of even a thin cloak of credibility. Luthra was either amnesic, or just plain sick," the editorial said.

Government spokesman Rohitha Bogollagama later called the 40,000 figure a "gross exaggeration."

The state owned Daily News accused foreign news agencies and broadcast media of biased and sensational coverage motivated by profits. The Island chimed in with “They have mistaken their mission here for heightening the conflict by lionizing Tigers."

Lyndon Jeffels, spokesman for the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, told the BBC that UN staff could not confirm the figure of 40,000, but it was clear that thousands of people were on the move.

Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam talking to TamilNet said, "The figure of 43,158 persons displaced is an official figure reported by the Divisional Secretariat of Muttur and confirmed by independent NGOs including INFORM. This figure is not an LTTE generated one. Foreign press has faithfully reported this official figure. If this figure is wrong, the Government has to blame its own institutions.

"Without verifying the facts, for the government to have singled out the foreign media, in our view, the government is once again putting the foundations to clampdown the free press that will eventually pave the way for a form of censorship on reporting from the NorthEast. We will not be surprised if the foreign media are intimidated into towing the government line. This after all has been the consistent practice of the Sri Lankan State in trying to cover up their excesses they have committed against the Tamil civilians with impunity at times of war. The attack on free press, however, has damaged Government's credibility," Gajendrakumar said.

The Muttur East AGA division, which consists of more than 30 villages, includes Kadatkaraichenai, Senaiyoor, Sampoor, Ilakkanthai, Sudaikudah, Pattalipuram and Koolithivu. Muttur east has a population of more than 30,000 with about 10,000 registered voters. In addition, villages that are outside Muttur East and under the control of the Liberation Tigers including Ralkuli and Upparu, also came under naval and mortar attack on Tuesday and Wednesday.

In addition, there are nearly 10,000 people who had relocated to Muttur East prior to the aerial and naval bombardment. These people had fled from the violence in the government controlled Seruvila Police Division. This includes people from the villages of Thanganagar, Thanguveli, Kiliveddi, Menkamam, Mallikaithivu and Bharathipuram.

External Links:
UMKC: Trial of Free Press: John Peter Zenger


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