The Defence Column

25th February 1996

A Vain Hope

By Our Defence Correspondent

Life in Jaffna is torn asunder by violence. When the rattle of gunfire ceases and the warring parties call for a recess, there's momentary calm. The uneasy peace, to put it relatively, prevails despite the sporadic incidents, until the enemies move in for yet another devastating battle.

In a strange twist of events as much as the people don't want the war, the LTTE couldn't agree more. Intelligence reports indicate a new-found fear-psychosis engulfing the rank and file of the LTTE. For Prabhakaran, there's no time for respite. He insists that the LTTE would put up a good fight when troops launch a fresh offensive in Jaffna (soon).

But the government has other ideas. Yet another thrashing is on the cards, say the top brass. As for the people in the South they may never know the battle ground situation, apart from what might be dished out by the government media machinery.

The news is that some top-brass has requested for the imposing of a censorship. If this behind- the-scene plot sees the light of the day, Sri Lankans (why worry about the international rebuke) will be once again kept in the dark during the crucial days of the offensive.

It is yet to be seen whether the government had learnt from the past, when a historic victory was marred by a controversial censorship on the media.

A war, according to international opinion, raises doubts of fairplay under the Geneva Convention, if it is undocumented by the independent media. In other words, the government can in its own free will, invite criticism and allegations of war crimes.

The request for a censorship on military news is alarming, especially in the context that the plea had originated from within the military. This gives vent to the theory that the military may want to hide a few things it intends of executing during the offensive in Jaffna. Fortunately for the country, not all top brass are short-sighted. Some top officers leading the offensive have reportedly spoken against a censorship on military news, arguing that its repercussions can be damaging indeed.

As the new offensive looms nearer, the question being asked in defence circles is whether the LTTE would evacuate the civilians or not! There is dissention within the LTTE think tanks with some top leaders openly condemning the decision to forcibly evacuate civilians from the Valikamam division of Jaffna.

Meanwhile, the government expects the civilians to return to Jaffna by April with the assurance from the Army that the city would be ready by then.

The Army is now waging a mind-winning war in the liberated areas hoping the message will be carried through to people in refugee camps.

An interesting example is the weekly fair (pola) organized by the Army in Jaffna. For a few thousand civilians who have returned of Jaffna, this fair is the highlight of an otherwise uneventful week, coping with the new-found peace which at times seems unreal.

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