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18th October 1998

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Censorship not serving our interest, says Kadirgamar

Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in a recent interview with BBC's 'Asia Today' said 'my own personal view is that censorship must be lifted as quickly as possible because it is not serving our own interest'.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. How do you expect people to feel any confidence about your military campaign when seeing the way you are providing information?

A. Well even during the Second World War information was very rigidly censored. In fact I can tell you this, as a Foreign Minister I can tell you, that a number of friendly governments, including yours, the government of this country, have told us that they're astonished that we are reporting in such fine detail what goes on in the battlefield, what our plans are, what pre-emptive action we are taking, and so on. They were quite horrified some time ago. And some of them confidentially said to us 'you know we wouldn't fight a battle like this. We wouldn't. We would be very careful to see that reporters weren't running around on the front lines." But that said, I must tell you that my own personal view is that this kind of censorship must be lifted as quickly a possible, because it is not serving our own interest. At the lowest point it's not serving our own interest, because we have a very good case with the world, and reporters have often told me, why don't you allow us to go to these areas and tell the world the truth, because the truth is on your side'.

Q. Your government is finding it harder and harder to recruit new soldiers.

A. Well, I don't know. Recruitment goes up and down. Sometimes when you have a relatively bad military situation recruitment goes down and shoots up again on another occasion. It will even out. The Tigers themselves must be having very serious problems. They are recruiting ten-year-old children. And by the way on this programme I want, with your permission, to be able to appeal to the conscience of the world. In regard to what these terrorists are doing to the young children of Jaffna. It is the most abominable crime against humanity.

Q. At the same time you are still implementing a policy of censorship, controlling the kind of information that is available to the public about the course of the war.

A. Yes.

Q. How could a guerrilla Force inflict such heavy casualties on a national army?

A. It happens over and over again. It happened in Vietnam. It happened in Afghanistan. The history of warfare is full of things of that kind. A guerrilla force has two advantages. One, in confronting a conventional army, it can fight and run away , and regroup and come back tomorrow. Sometimes from the rear. In unexpected places, because they have mobility. And, they adjust their tactics accordingly. Mark you, I've been away from Sri Lanka for three weeks, I've been in New York for the General Assembly of the UN and I am not completely in touch with all the details. I will be in a few hours when I get back home. But it does seem to me that there had been perhaps a break down of intelligence, that we were not as well informed as we have been on previous occasions. But you know, in a battle that has gone on for ten years, there are ups and downs.

Q. You mentioned Vietnam, you mentioned Afghanistan. And I think it makes the point well. This war against the Tigers.

A. Yes.

Q. Is it an unwinnable war?

A. I don't think so. I don't think so at all.

Q. But looking like it is, though.

A. It might at the moment. But in six months time it might be totally different. Because the Tiger's strategy is very dependent on one man... You see there's a completely fascistic, monolithic organisation. Totally undemocratic. There is no people base at all. Contrary to what some people think, they've no base at all.

Q. But you have to fight the war...

A. Of course.

Q. When Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power there was an upsurge of optimism, it looked like there was a real chance for peace. Is the government prepared to get round the table again and reopen peace negotiations?

A. The prospects of peace were completely dashed by Mr. Prabhakaran and the LTTE. Our President, within weeks of coming to power in 1994, began talks with them. In April 1995 they kicked the table and went back to war. The whole responsibility for this matter not being settled peacefully is on the LTTE. I make bold to say that, I stand by that and I have any amount of evidence to show that they do not want peace.

Q. You are not prepared to try again?

A. We are prepared to try, but they are not. It's as simple as that. President Kumaratunga has said over and over again, I have said this over and over again, in different fora, that the door is open, they can walk in, they can sit down at the table, they can start talking. But, and there is a big but, they must make it clear, in some suitable form, not necessarily by making a public confession. They must make it clear that they believe, finally, that war and violence is not the answer to the problem. That they are not fighting for a separate state and that they are prepared to enter into meaningful negotiations.

Dateline Mankulam

Champagne for the Generals

There he was in the battle field with the full regalia of a military General- fatigues with a cross sword, crown and star on his shoulders, boots, body armour, steel helmet and a broad smile.

As the service commanders, senior officers and other ranks stood to rapt attention, he hoisted the national flag at a solemn ceremony. Later, he went around flesh pressing, mounted a tank or was engaged in deep conversation with those present.

Television cameras roll. Still cameras clicked at a pace that reminded one of the full burst of a magazine from an automatic rifle. Scribes, all from the state media, found themselves uncomfortable as they took down notes. The flak jackets on their body weighed somewhat heavy.

Later, soldiers sent round paper plates for the VIPs among those present. There was ripe, succulent Kolikuttus and butter cake. They were washed down with Coca Cola. That little reception came from the local troops.

That was how a nation saw Deputy Defence Minister, General Anuruddha Ratwatte, ceremonially acknowledge the re-capture of the strategic town of Mankulam.

Further North, in the Jaffna Peninsula, troops were forced to forego their meat and fish- the result of the ban on flights by private airlines. Supplies could not be moved since the Sri Lanka Air Force was operating only one aircraft. Hence, they had to be content with vegetarian meals. But it was a different story in Mankulam.

Perhaps the only politician turned military General conducting an anti guerrilla war in the world today (apart from a number of other unique firsts), General Ratwatte, had wanted to have the flag hoisting ceremony the day after Mankulam was captured, September 30. But senior military officials advised against it. There was intermittent LTTE mortar fire in that area.

They arranged the ceremony for the next day, October 1 and picked on a location some 300 metres south of the Mankulam junction. That was a precautionary measure. It is here that the highly publicised media event occurred.

But the events that followed received hardly any media attention. Perhaps they would not. The soldiers in the defence lines had to be content with their meal in a ration pack and a little water. Picking a lunch break to heat and eat it is not easy. It has to be during the lull in a gun battle or a mortar shower. Sometimes the strong winds would sweep in fine sand to their meal forcing them to throw it away.

Gen. Ratwatte adjourned to a neighbouring command post where a bottle of Champagne was uncorked. This time, without the glare of any camera or the prying eyes of the scribes, Gen. Ratwatte toasted the top brass to a glass each. Half way through the champagne celebration, a senior officer seized the bottle, put his thumb on the mouth, shook it and held it at Gen. Ratwatte and Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Rohan de S. Daluwatte. They were showered with the bubbly stuff.

Was it Dom Perignon, Moet Chandon or a lesser known variety from Appelation d'origin in France ? Or was it some sparkling wine from the vineyards of California ? That remains a military secret.

But the young officers who did not share the glory of a champagne bash were not in for disappointment. There were plenty of short eats to go around, pastries, cutlets, patties to name a few. Like the champagne, they had all been airlifted to the battle area in a helicopter.

If everything went off well, two incidents, one after the other was to cause some sadness.

One of the airmen whose task it was to take care of the VIP supplies was attending to some cleaning chores on a VIP helicopter which was parked on the ground at a Wanni airbase. Two other helicopters flew over so close that they caused what Air Force officials call a rotor wash – the rapid rotation of the rotor blades that remain neutral when the engine is knocked off. The airman was beheaded.

If that was sad enough, Gen. Ratwatte's official vehicle and an escort vehicle, moving in a cleared area in the Wanni, were hit by a claymore mine. Two commandos, a Policeman and a civilian were killed. The incidents indeed caused heartburn and sorrow. Those are the vagaries of a protracted war.

But little do Sri Lankans know that champagne has now become a war- like item. No matter whether Hitler, Napoleon, Che Guevara and Mao Tse Tsung spoke about champagne parties or not at the capture of every location. Not even Sun Tzu made any reference to it in his century old epic – The Art of War. But the Sri Lankan example is on certainly an addition to the strategies and tactics of some of the self appointed military experts. May champagne and Black Label whisky flow at every victory, some seem to say. But for the less fortunate and those who have been labelled disgruntled, many will drown their deep sorrows with Arrack or a lesser known brew that is cheaper!

Delhi dismayed over K'nochchi

By Our India Correspondent

New Delhi- In involved the context of the stalled political process to bring an end to the ethnic conflict, the triumph of the Tigers over the Sri Lankan armed forces at Kilinochchi late last month has deepened dismay in New Delhi.

The feeling that neither the political nor the military machine in Sri Lanka seems committed to or capable of delivering the goods is growing and getting entrenched.

But political observers in both New Delhi and Chennai are certain that despite the concern, India would not poke its nose into Sri Lanka's affairs again.

All that New Delhi would do is to continue to hope that the government and the Tamils would resolve their problems by themselves and that at no stage there would be a spillover into India as it happened during the eighties. The Tamil Nadu factor continues to be crucial.

But fortunately for New Delhi and Colombo, the events in Sri Lanka have ceased to trigger even ripples in Tamil Nadu.

New Delhi's primary, if not the whole interest, is to have a friendly Sri Lanka and so long as Colombo is friendly, nothing would be done overtly or covertly against it. And no government can be friendlier than the present one.

There was very little comment by political leaders on the Kilinochchi debacle and its political import, but what "The Hindustan Times" said in an editorial on Oct. 2, appears to be the general line of thinking in South Block, the Indian foreign office.

Entitled "Tigers deadly still", the edit said that for President Chandrika Kumaratunga's government, Kilinochchi meant more than just another military setback. It said that the Tigers' action had put into question her government's policy which was premised on a strategy to militarily push the LTTE to a point that its leaders would be forced to sue for peace.

"Questions will now be raised regarding the efficacy of the whole approach.

Unfortunately, there are several roadblocks to evolving a national consensus on finding a solution to the ethnic issue.

The two main political formations in the country are still unable to see eye to eye with each other. The habit of Sinhala chauvinists to raise war cries every time the question of conceding some of the demands of the minority Tamils was raised has further worsened the chances of a peaceful solution," it concluded.

India believes that there is no military solution to the problem and that the government has to implement some kind of a devolution system immediately and lessen the curbs on the Tamil man in the street, if the Tamils are to be weaned away from the terrorists. Till last year, there was a feeling that the Chandrika Kumaratunga government was serious about the package and that it would be pushed through. But now that feeling and hope have all but disappeared into thin air. Going by the carnages of the sort seen in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, the Tamils and Sinhalese seem to be seized by a death wish.

On its part, India would do little beyond feeling sorry and expressing pious hopes. After the storm that the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka accord and the IPKF ran into, nobody in India wants to interfere in the affairs of another country. Even "facilitation" of the kind offered by UK is scary. The mood is to keep off so long as there is no immediate, physical threat from a neighbour. The Vajpayee government is so preoccupied with Pakistan, Kashmir, CTBT and the US sanctions, that there is little time for other issues.

Buddhist groups express fears

The Church of Ceylon Bill presented to Parliament in May 1995 has aroused protest by several Buddhist organisations.

The organisations in a statement expressed fear that Sri Lanka will soon be Christianized.

The seven organisations which came together in protest were summoned to appear before the Standing Committee in June 1997.They clarified matters regarding their representation to the Secretary General of Parliament. They explained their objections to the Committee particularly about the wide powers to be given to the Church to expand their activities.

Co-incidentally members of the Church of Ceylon who objected to the Bill also lodged their protest. One of the grounds for the rejection of the Bill was that the 2/3 majority necessary to amend the constitution was not complied with.

On the other hand the Registrar of the Colombo Diocese of the Church of Ceylon dismissed the objection of not having received the 2/3 majority.

The Buddhist Organizations were summoned before the Standing Committee for the second time and the Committee's decision was to request the Bishop of Colombo to draw up a new constitution for the church and until then the Bill was to be kept on hold.

During the third meeting with the Standing Committee they were informed that the matter had been put to the Attorney General who saw no objection to the Bill and were also told that the committee will recommend the Bill to the Speaker.

Although they were summoned to clarify matters, the letter from the organisations stated "the meeting ended abruptly and was called to a close with no opportunity given to us to speak."

"At first the Standing Committee was convinced that the Bill cannot be proceeded with, but later with no valid reasons our objections were arbitrarily dismissed," the statement said.

It further stated that Bishop Kenneth Fernando had refused to prepare a constitution when called upon to do so by the Standing Committee, and therefore it had failed to insist upon a constitution being submitted to them before recommending the Bill.

The Bill had been withdrawn from the Order Paper of May 5, due to the representations made by the different parties.

The Registrar has issued a statement saying the Bill will not be detrimental to other religious communities and that their fears are unfounded because the issues concerned are the same as that contained in their 1930 constitution to which there was no protest.

"After the withdrawal of the Bill from the Order Paper of May 5, 1998 pressures applied by interested persons have been successful in having the Bill included in quick succession on the order papers of May 20, June 10, and June 12, 1998 and to have it passed on the last date," the statement said.

These Organisations also referred the matter to the President. Furthermore, they feel public opinion should have been taken into account before the Bill was passed.

"Judging from the events that have taken place we are compelled to conclude that this is a clear instance where the Buddhists have been denied even their right to a fair hearing and where the state has bartered the protection afforded to the Buddha Sasana by the Supreme Law of the Country to satisfy the demands of a handful of schemers.

This is another significant milestone in the long list of recent events where the minority has been in the powerful position of winning their demands at the expense of the legitimate rights of the majority," the statement reiterated.

The letter was signed by the Presidents of all seven organizations- the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress, World Fellowship of Buddhists (SL), Sinhala Arakshaka Sanvidanaya, Dharmavijaya Foundation, Young Men's Buddhist Association, All Ceylon Women's Buddhist Congress and SUCCESS Colombo.

Meanwhile the National Sangha Council in a hard hitting press release said "We call upon the people to show their opposition to politicians who play with the lives of our soldiers for political advantage."

It further stated "We believe that the Government and the Opposition will continue to play their little games until the LTTE captures Colombo. Therefore we call upon the people to extend their support directly to the armed forces to safeguard the nation."

Meanwhile, at hospitals throughout the island Buddhist monks worked to lessen the pain and agony of soldiers who had to leave the war front due to serious injuries. Pirith chanting ceremonies were held at the Kalubowila, Matara and the National Hospital during the past week.

The monks visited the injured soldiers at the National Hospital, Colombo on Tuesday, October 13, 1998, with gift parcels of essential items for them.

They also provided large quantities of bed linen and pillows in response to a request made a few days ago by the hospital administration.

More than 300 monks mingled with the injured soldiers symbolising the words of Madoluwawe Sobitha Thero "Even as you fight in the battlefield, remember we are always beside you in thought, casting a protective shield over you."

They chanted pirith, invoking the blessings of the Triple Gem and tied the healing pirith noola, giving the soldiers the only protection that civilians so far away from the battlefield can give.

In a bid to ease the hardships faced by Service families the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress and the National Movement Against Terrorism provided food, shelter and other assistance to family members of injured soldiers who came to Colombo from distant places to visit their loved ones in hospital.

Army-LTTE war over civil life in Jaffna

By Chris Kamalendran

The LTTE is demanding the suspension of the bus services and other public facilities in Jaffna — but the Army is confident the civil administration could and would be maintained despite any threats. The Northern Regional Transport Board general manager has received a letter from the LTTE telling him to suspend bus services before Saturday.

Other revenue generating departments also have received similar warning letters, northern officials said. The motor traffic, inland revenue and elections departments have already suspended work while the Electricity Board which had been trying to restore power supplies has got a threatening note to stop everything before October 24.

Jaffna Judges who had been threatened earlier met on Wednesday and decided not to conduct cases as they felt there was a direct threat to their lives. On Friday, they faxed a letter to the Justice Ministry explaining their plight.

Over the weekend, the LTTE also circulated leaflets in the Jaffna town asking civilians to vacate areas around army camps.

The restoration of civil administration, one of the main thrusts of the government's rehabilitation plan, came apart this year when the LTTE killed two mayors in addition to other top officials. Last month's disappearance of a LionAir flight with upto 50 passengers from Jaffna to Colombo and the consequent cancellation of civilian air services have further hampered normal civilian life.

Jaffna security forces Commander Lionel Balagalle, however, was confident that the security forces could maintain the civilian administration despite setbacks and threats.

"This is not the first time the LTTE has tried to cripple civil administration in the north," he said.

Injured foreigner out of danger

The Japanese woman who was sustained injuries after she tripped and fell on the platform at the Secretariat railway station in Fort last week, is recovering, hospital sources said.

Ms.Tamaki Akashi (34) had come to Sri Lanka three months ago and was living in a private house in Negombo had come to Colombo last Thursday. Whilst walking along the platform, in heavy rain she had slipped and fallen, injuring slight injuries Fort Police OIC A.M.Ekanayake told the Sunday Times last night.

Meanwhile, Japanese embassy officials visited the hospital and thanked the authorities for the prompt treatment giver to Akashi.

Police also said that when they went to record her statement she was still in a state of shock and hope to record her statement once she is fit.

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