The Situation Report
28th June 1998
Censored headlines and new deadlines
Censorship continues as casualty figures mount
By Iqbal Athas
Ministry of Defence pic
Cloaked under a strict censorship, more his tory was being created last week in the 16 year old separatist war.
Taking note of the very high casualty rate in the latest thrust to re-capture the strategic Mankulam junction, instructions have gone out from the highest levels of the Government not to rush the troops to keep to unrealistic deadlines. The move came as the ongoing phase of "Operation Jaya Sikurui" (or Victory Assured) became one month old today.
On May 28, troops flanked out in two different directions to envelope Mankulam. One pushed in a north easterly direction from near Olumadu and later veered westwards. The other column which remained just three miles south of Mankulam ventured out in a westerly direction to head north. When they linked up, Mankulam would have been enveloped by troops. But that was not to be.
Fierce LTTE resistance has led to mounting casualties.
This was despite a ray of hope a week ago. The man who is personally directing the military offensive against the Tiger guerrillas, Deputy Defence Minister, Gen.Anuruddha Ratwatte, believed it was a matter of a few days and Mankulam would fall.
So much so, word was sent to the Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence -the official propaganda arm for the war effort -to gear the media for a build up to say that the re-capture of Mankulam was imminent. News releases from the OP HQ of the Ministry of Defence came out one after another.
Some were headlines in the State run media. But after one whole month, re-capture has still remained elusive.
If the initial setbacks when the operation re-commenced on May 28 prompted Gen. Ratwatte to recommend to President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to clamp down a total Censorship, last week's developments clearly indicate that the news blackout will continue for a much longer period than expected. That is if there is no sudden change of mind.
There were many reasons for the move. Main among them has been the staggering casualty count in the past one month.
Despite persistent denials by military authorities, The Sunday Times has on authority that over.... have been killed since
May 28. The Army Censor has deleted the figure and introduced
That includes not only those who died in the two pronged push but also those who were involved in two abortive bids to break out from the Paranthan defences and re-capture previously held fortifications in Kilinochchi.
In the past one month, the number wounded, both seriously and otherwise, has exceed... The Army Censor has deleted the figure 1416. Since the operation began on May 13, 1997, the death toll has now exceeded ... and the total wounded over 10,000. The Army Censor has deleted the figure and introduced 1567.
In this backdrop, The Sunday Times reliably learns that Gen. Ratwatte has given Government leaders another deadline, this time to end the ongoing operation before December, this year. Since all his previous deadlines have come a cropper, whether this new one would hold water is anybody's guess.
But there is considerable apprehension in higher Military circles about senior commanders being compelled to stick to deadlines.
Hence they are of the view that the military should be allowed to execute the war effort after making adequate plans and preparations.
"Our men are trained and geared to fight a war. We have learnt a lot in the past years. If we are given the task and the objectives, we are confident we can defeat this highly over-rated enemy." For obvious reasons the official did not wish to be identified.
Since procurements do not come within the ambit Of the censorship, another matter that has become relevant is the recently acquired US built mortar locating radar purchased at a cost of over 22 million US dollars.
The source declined to elaborate except to add that the equipment had been purchased new from the Hughes Corporation, a leading military supplier in the United States.
Censored—— firing of 81 mm mortars by the LTTE 1
A weapon that has caused the highest volume of casualties during "Operation Jaya Sikurui."
Two of these armour plated helicopters were to touch down at the SLAF base in Vavuniya, load bombs/rockets and take off to attack LTTE targets.
\The first had arrived. Around 8.50 am On Friday, when the second MI 24 was coming in to land, the helicopter exploded in a fire ball killing its two pilots and two gunners.
An official press release did not give the cause of the incident but suggested a "crash."
What has alarmed the security establishment over the latest MI 24 incident is the fact that it occurred in a controlled area.
Minutes before the MI 24 exploded, another Bell
Helicopter ...(censored)...were heading for Vavuniya. On hearing the news on the radio, the pilot diverted course and touched down in Anuradhapura.
Despite the total news blackout, the controlled and directed flow of information, the coming weeks will remain crucial to the war effort.
International Alert's contacts with the LTTE are such that it finds even embarrassing or cannot tolerate to have on its staff, anyone who openly criticises the LTTE.
Prajathanthra, Foundation for Freedom of Expression, convenor Lucien Rajakarunanayake in a statement says that the dismissal of Frederica Jansz as the manager in the office of International Alert in Colombo, raises a serious issue of the commitment of International Alert to the Freedom of Expression.
"Ms. Jansz, a well known and experienced journalist, was hired by International Alert with the full knowledge that she was a free-lance journalist, and with no conditions attached as to what she could write on.
"While being the Office Manager of Alert in Colombo, she has written several articles to newspapers on subjects concerning the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, and the ongoing war. In many of these articles she was critical of the approach of the Government of Sri Lanka in the face of the armed separatist demand by the LTTE. Apparently these caused no embarrassement to International Alert.
"What has disturbed International Alert into dismissing her is an article she wrote about the fund-raising and other activities, openly carried by the LTTE in Norway. We are well aware that International Alert has strong contacts with the LTTE, and this is what has enabled it to offer its services as a facilitator to end the war in Sri Lanka.
"In the absence of International Alert previously informing Ms. Frederica Jansz that she should avoid from any comment on the LTTE, whether good or bad, we consider the action of International Alert as a gross violation of the Freedom of Expression of a journalist, which deserves condemnation.
"Freedom of Expression is an essential component of democracy. The present action of International Alert raises considerable doubt in our minds about its commitment to democratic principles and genuine peace in Sri Lanka, whatever its declared commitments to conflict resolution may be, especially when it is so embarrassed when the behaviour of the LTTE is exposed," says the statement.
Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to