10th October 1999

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Save the villages

Last week's front page photograph in our newspaper of two old men with shotguns purportedly engaged in the task of guarding a Ampara "border village", was like some depiction out of Ripley's Believe-it-or-not. But, as the threadbare saying goes, fact can indeed be stranger than fiction.

The border village guard - post picture however is also a caustic reminder that complacent folks in Colombo including politicians, peaceniks and hawks the whole motley band may be living on borrowed time. While the seminar wallahs were making lachrymose impassioned pleas for peace in Colombo, the war obviously went on. Now, like some tableau from the past, gruesome scenes of babies being decapitated in their homes by machete wielding men have come back to haunt us.

That's uncanny, because there was feeling that the border village issue was addressed or is it aeons ago, by committed persons such as Ravi Jayewardene and others, who re armed the villagers and took the fight to the Tigers.

That's not to say that the army did nothing, but the army was sensitized by various activists, and the situation of insecurity in the border villages was brought under some sort of control. In other words, the stability of the border villages was considered one of the success stories of this sickening ongoing conflict.

That was a pathetic illusion, and while it is heartrending to see the same scenes of panic being repeated in the villages, it has to be said that the border village attacks have underscored the fact that nothing has been done towards peace in the long tenure of the previous government and now the considerably long tenure of this government.

What's even more depressing is the fact that there seems to be not even a knee jerk reaction from the power elite in Colombo at this time's carnage in these villages. It's as if this is the replay, and everybody is tired and jaded by the pathetic story of the wretched of the earth in the Eastern province.

Not that anybody has any answers. But, is there anybody out there who cares a whit about the old gun toting men and their cowering relatives in our so called border villages in the parched sands of Ampara, and thereabout? One must never forget the truism that unless those in Colombo go to the border, the border will come to Colombo.

Media move

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe's gallant stand for the media, in the form of his tabling a multi-party Media Reforms motion in parliament, deserves double kudos particularly because he is at the risk of being told "look what Ranil's Uncle's paper is saying.''

But, we are certain that the President's Uncle's paper and all those who cherish free press will endorse the multi-party move to create new legislation that will bring Sri Lanka in line with the new democratic liberal (and we dare say civilized) trends in the world.

Also worthy of salute are the principled support groups that have taken an admirable bipartisan stand on this very important issue. These include signatories to the motion such as Srimani Athulathmudali, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Dharmalingam Siddharthan Douglas Devananda and of course others such as the very important Minister M. H. M. Ashraff, who has promised his support for the motion. (Not forgetting of course is the late Neelan Tiruchelvam who pledged his support, but did not live to see the motion being tabled in parliament.)

These parliamentarians seem to have been alive to the fact that the Sri Lankan media is growing up, and is now in the process of evolving a self regulatory mechanism to ensure media responsibility in the future. The media, as any media does in any part of the globe, has a role to play in the effort for good governance as the most reliable sentinel for the voiceless masses of this nation. The motion tabled in parliament happily recognizes this fact and we commend it to the government for earnest consideration.

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