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The Situation Report

12th July 1998

A lull in the fighting

By Iqbal Athas

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Behind the lull and the ongoing censorship, the defence establishment has been busy carrying out an exhaustive appreciation of the recent battles and planning out remedial action.

War's objective is victory - not prolonged indecision. In war, there is no substitute for victory -General Douglas Macarthur

It was barely two weeks ago that Major General Sarath Munasinghe, official military spokesman who relinquishes office tomorrow, declared that the ongoing "Operation Jaya Sikurui" (or Victory Assured) was at a decisive stage.

He handed out sets of colour maps to show the areas from which the LTTE has been evicted. From the shadings marked out as LTTE dominated areas, there was no doubt, victory was round the corner. He confirmed that a further 30 kilometres of the A9, the main Kandy-Jaffna highway, remains to be re-captured. An extent of 46 kilometres was already under security forces control.

And yet, despite the glowing prospects of a decisive victory, a censorship of the local and foreign media, has entered its second month, denying to Sri Lankans and the outside world a true and clear picture of the 16-year long separatist war. Whilst official versions of the conduct of the war, not subject to any form of censorship, has received wide play in the print and electronic media, other versions have gone through the close scrutiny of the Army Censor.

With the introduction of the censorship on June 5, the Army Censor chose it fit to even delete previously made public statements by none other than their Commander-in-Chief and President, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, when The Sunday Times forwarded its copy.

The past weeks have seen not only the deletion of casualty figures - dead, wounded and missing - but the introduction of the Army Censor's own figures into copies forwarded by The Sunday Times. If they appeared in that form in the newspaper, the reader undoubtedly would have believed those to be the figures given by The Sunday Times and not the Army Censor. Moreover, if the Army Censor believed that the casualty figure they had, however low the count was, to be the most authoritative, an easy way out would have been to send a news release. Almost all the media use the news releases put out by the Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence.

But in fairness to them, most senior Army officials (not to mention the Sri Lanka Air Force and the Navy) are truly embarrassed at the task of enforcing the censorship being placed in the hands of the military. Many say it was not fair by them to be called upon to fight the war and "to decide what not to tell the public who are not only funding the war but, many, who have given their sons and daughters for the effort." Their predicament seems to lay bare the hypocrisy behind claims that the military asked for the censorship.

It is in this restricted and managed backdrop that the Sri Lankans are being made to believe many a success story. Major General Munasinghe has asserted that 46 kilometres of the A9 highway was now in the hands of the security forces. This achievement has taken a period of almost 14 months. "Operation Jaya Sikurui" began on May 13, last year and will be 14 months old on Tuesday.

A renewed offensive to re-capture the remaining stretch of the A-9 highway began on May 28. Its immediate objective was to re-capture the strategic town of Mankulam. Heavy fighting which led to extremely staggering casualties led to the imposition of the censorship on June 5.

For more than two weeks now, senior military officials say, there has been a lull in the fighting. Troops in the Wanni are going through various manoeuvres and enhanced training.

Cnsored Censored Censored Censored

Behind the lull and the ongoing censorship, the defence establishment has been busy carrying out an exhaustive appreciation of the recent battles and planning out remedial action.

Major General Munasinghe who received his promotion last week has been posted as GOC of the Army's 51 Division in Jaffna. Censored Censored Censored Censored Censored Censored Censored Censored Censored Major General Shantha Kottegoda, GOC 51 Division has been named as Director General of Training, a newly created post at Army Headquarters.

In an unprecedented move, Brigadier Sunil Tennekoon, Director of Military Intelligence (DMI), has been named as official Military Spokesman. He is to function in this role whilst continuing as DMI. Though said to be only for a short time, this is the first occasion when an intelligence chief has also been called upon to play the dual role as Military Spokesman. That too in the backdrop of the Army acting as Censor.

Other top level changes are also being contemplated at the highest levels of the security establishment. According to highly placed sources, the coming months are likely to see the birth of a unified command headed by a Joint Chief of Staff. For obvious reasons, one cannot spell out details.

Notwithstanding the top level changes, a decisive victory in the coming weeks will remain a focal point of public attention. More so with plans to put off Provincial Council elections until this victory is achieved.

Whether such a victory will also be claimed whilst a censorship exists or the free media will be able to truly reflect on the outcome remains to be seen. Only the coming weeks and months will show.

Note: The Army Censor has deleted references made to new changes, appointments etc.

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