reporting starts at home
The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) Executive Director
Dr. Pakiyasothy Saravanamuttu and its director Sunanda Deshapriya,
commenting on the visit organised by them to the Manirasakulam
camp claimed they were on a 'fact finding mission'.
told The Sunday Times they had organised the visit to the
Manirasakulam camp after the LTTE made the offer that anybody
could visit the camp. He said he was not sure what transpired
as it was Mr.Dshapriya, who co-ordinated the event.
said their mission was to visit the conflict areas and ascertain
whether there was balanced reporting.
Asked why CPA officials sat with LTTE bigwigs and began questioning
the contents of a Sunday Times article on the camp, Mr. Deshapriya
said, “It must have been to start the discussion”.
he had failed to contact journalists in The Sunday Times and
other journalists who had reported on the controversial Manirasakulam
camp extensively before or after their assignment; CPA-LTTE-Trinco.
During the near
20 months of the ceasefire, non governmental agencies or NGOs of
various hues, who receive funding from a multitude of foreign sources,
have been very active. Throwing money very liberally, some have
played the role of good Samaritans. There have been others whose
dubious roles have aroused suspicion on many occasions. State agencies
have not been able to keep tabs on all their activities though laws
concerning NGOs have been tightened from time to time.
In this backdrop,
the Colombo based Centre for Policy Alerternatives (CPA), an NGO
which has hitherto played its role inthe seminar circuit of the
peace process, played a new role this week - acting as virtual brokers
for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). CPA-LTTE-Trinco
was what they themselves termed the project in their email to newspaper
a conducted tour for sections of the media to visit the controversial
Manirasakulam (Kurangupaanchan) guerrilla camp in the Trincomalee
district. A tourist coach was placed at their disposal and overnight
accommodation was arranged at a hotel in Trincomalee. Nothing wrong
at all, one would say. But there was more. CPA representatives were
on hand to play the role for the media, in raising loaded questions
and trying to elicit loaded answers from political and military
wing leaders of the LTTE who were on hand. They were not facilitators
but active participants in the Press Conference. But the mission
misfired posing serious doubts on the credibility of the Centre
for Policy Alternatives (CPA) - whether it was truly an impartial
NGO or one that worked to a hidden agenda.
separately to Manirasakulam accompanied by The Sunday Times Deputy
Pictures Editor, Lakshman Gunathilake. Our Trincomalee Correspondent
Sinniah Gurunathan accompanied us. I saw the CPA organised media
team arrive in the area in a 40-seater coach. We joined them and
walked four kilometres. The coach could not make its way.
A side entrance
to the camp was opened for us. LTTE Political Wing leader, S. Thilak
and the head of Trincomalee's branch of the Sri Lanka Monitoring
Mission, Kurt Spur, a Swedish national, who has been serving in
the area for six months was on hand.
media personnel went in different directions to take a glimpse of
the Manirasakulam camp, the first ever media visit allowed by the
LTTE since the SLMM had ruled that the camp was in a government-controlled
area. This visit had been arranged by the CPA in collaboration with
the LTTE, something that even the UNF Government nor the SLMM could
do. Video cameras rolled while some journalists began making notes.
Some guerrillas, armed with brand new American built M16 automatic
rifles stood guard. I saw launchers mounted with Rocket Propelled
Grenades (RPGs) inside cadjan thatched huts that dotted the area.
A news conference
was held close to a massive Tamarind tree. Three people first introduced
themselves as from the CPA. They were "co-ordinators"
Lionel Guruge and Vijaya Shanthan and a Tamil translator Senthil
The first question
at the open air news conference came from Lionel. He produced a
copy of The Sunday Times (Situation Report of August 3) where a
map marking LTTE camps in the Trincomalee district was published.
He said, "a leading newspaper in Colombo" (that was how
he referred to The Sunday Times) had published details of LTTE camps
established reportedly after the Ceasefire Agreement was signed
between the Government and the LTTE. Lionel wanted to know whether
this was true.
Thilak, the LTTE Political Wing leader replied, "We also read
this article. We saw the graphics. These are baseless claims. Whatever
camps referred to in the graphics (the reference was to the map
in the Situation Report) were in existence before the CFA."
It was CPA's translator, Senthil who translated Thilak's statement
But there was
a strange coincidence. At the same time that Thilak was addressing
the the news conference on Wedneday, Parliament at Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte
was debating the security situation in Trincomalee. TULF Parliamentarian
R. Sambandan, who spoke in the morning told the House he had been
asked to inform Parliament that a group of journalists including
Sinhalese were being taken to visit the camp. However he did not
name the person or group who had told him to do so.
Thilak told the news conference that the SLMM was wrong in claiming
that Manirasakulam camp was in government- controlled territory.
He kept repeating that there were no new camps in the Trincomalee
district-a statement that was echoed in unison by both Lionel (CPA)
and Vijaya Shanthan (CPA). They were duly translated by Senthil
But that same
Wednesday afternoon, Defence Minister, Tilak Marapana told Parliament
it was true that LTTE strength in the areas surrounding the Trincomalee
port had increased during the ceasefire period. If that put paid
to claims made at the CPA-LTTE press conference, (note: Lionel,
Vijaya Shanthan and Senthil sat together with Thilak facing the
media) there was more.
chief, Kurt Spur declared, "the existence of the Manirasakulam
camp abrogated the Ceasefire Agreement." He said "we have
made our ruling that the camp was set up after the signing of the
Ceasefire Agreement based on the information provided by the LTTE
itself. The SLMM will stand by this ruling. The SLMM has established
that the camp was set up after June 16." He said that the SLMM
insists that the camp should be withdrawn but added they had no
power to forcefully enforce their determination.
team seated at the head table remained dumb-struck. After this embarrassing
moment, CPA's Lionel interrupted Mr. Spur when he was making his
remarks to the media after the news conference. "How sure are
you to contradict the LTTE statement about the camp when the SLMM
came to Sri Lanka only after the Ceasefire Agreement," he asked
angrily standing his ground. Mr. Spur then pointed to a dilapidated
building and said it was once a mosque - in a Muslim dominated village.
He showed two LTTE monuments said to be in memory of cadres Lingam
and Ganesh who had "achieved martyrdom" and said they
were built on what was once a Muslim cemetery.
There was no
comeback from CPA's Lionel. I for myself saw the two monuments that
had been newly painted. They bore no inscriptions. When I asked
an LTTE cadre, I was told they were being readied for the "Maveerar
Week" next month. I asked whether the monuments were constructed
in recent months.
The cadre replied
that they had been there. We were able to see only a few shelters
- a kitchen that could cater for about 50 people and another used
as an armoury. The extent of the camp area is some 20 acres surrounded
by paddy fields and an irrigation tank bund. There were several
sentry points protected by sandbags and newly constructed sheds.
observation I made during the nearly hour-long CPA-LTTE press conference,
was that most of the questions were asked by CPA representatives
and not the media. As we left the area, many of the media personnel
including myself had more questions than answers than when we came
to the controversial camp.
One such question was - what is the CPA's agenda? Is it to cover
up the truth to help the LTTE, or is there some other game plan?
Even the Ministry of Defence that gave permission for the media
to travel to these areas may not know the answers.