Daily Archives: August 17, 2006
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has demanded an end to the continued and brutal targeting of Tamil media workers and the intimidation and censorship of Sri Lankan media.
Sathasivam Baskaram, a distributor for the Tamil newspaper Uthayan was reportedly shot dead on August 15 in Jaffna while returning from marking deliveries. According to an IFJ affiliate, the Free Media Movement (FMM), Baskaram was delivering the paper outside of the curfew hours that have been operating in the area since August 11.
“The IFJ is disgusted by the senseless killing of Baskaram, which is indicative of a disturbing trend of relentless targeting of the Tamil media. This latest murder raises further safety concerns for Tamil-language media workers in Sri Lanka, many of whom reportedly fear for their lives, said IFJ President Christopher Warren.
Baskaran is the fourth employee of the Uthayan newspaper group to be slain in the recent past.
“Falling security and increased civil violence has lead to an increasingly dangerous environment for journalists to work in. The Tamil-language press has particularly borne the brunt of such conflict, being targeted by government, extremists and rival Tamil groups,” Warren said.
There is also increasing pressure on independent Sinhala and English language media to take a sectarian stand in their reporting of the conflict.
“The Sri Lankan Government and warring parties must respect the media’s independence and the public’s right to full, uncensored information. It is most important in times of conflict.”
On the same day as Baskaram was murdered, the offices of Tamil newspaper, Surdaroli, in Colombo were searched by army personnel.
“This kind of harassment and attempt to censor Surdaroli is a grave violation of freedom of the press and is a blatant attempt to intimidate the staff of the newspaper. The continued harassment of the Tamil media in Sri Lanka must stop,” said Warren.
According to the FMM and other sources, distributors of Tamil language dailies, Surdoli and Thinakkural, have been receiving death threats from anti-LTTE para-military groups demanding that distribution stop immediately. This has caused a number of newspaper distributors to curtail their distribution in government-controlled areas according to local reports.
There are also reports of Tamil media organisations facing “unofficial” censorship from the government.
The IFJ, the organisation representing more than 500,000 journalists in over 115 countries, sends its unconditional support to all Sri Lankan media who remain committed to providing balanced, independent news, despite facing immense pressure from external forces.
“We stand in solidarity with our Sri Lankan colleagues during this difficult time. These atrocities against journalists and media organisations must not be permitted to continue and the IFJ demands the Sri Lankan government put an end the violence and intimidation immediately,” Warren said.
Via Free Media
Commonwealth Games Gold medallist Ashok Pandit will be the Indian flag-bearer at Friday’s mega opening ceremony at Sugathadasa Stadium, Colombo.
Shooter Pandit will be the overall captain of India’s 418-member contingent for the 20-discipline Games. The proud flag-bearer for the host nation Sri Lanka would be Olympic medallist Susanthika Jayasinghe, who competes in women’s 100m and 200m events.
The Indian contingent for Colombo Games comprises 298 men and 120 women. They will be participating in 17 disciplines, according the Indian Olympic Association (IOA).
Rangil Singh will be the Chef-de-mission of the Indian contingent with Kamlesh Chatterjee as his deputy.
This will be the largest ever contingent fielded by India in the SA Games history. India sent only a 320-member contingent for the last Games in Islamabad, 2004.
Meanwhile, Athletics Federation of Pakistan (AFP) secretary, Khalid Mahmood has claimed that their athletes would bag four gold medals, seven silver and ten bronze medals.
At the last Games in Islamabad two years ago, Pakistan won five gold medals, eight silver and 12 bronze medals.
"The number of medals we are now expecting is less to what we won two years ago. But being realistic, we have set a modest target keeping in view strength of India and Sri Lanka," Khalid was quoted as saying.
Against the tough challenge they have to face from India and the hosts Sri Lanka, Pakistan will find it tough to strike the gold in badminton. Naqi Mohsin, technical director of the Pakistan Badminton Federation (PBF), said they have to face a huge challenge in Colombo.
"India and Sri Lanka have very good players and we are pinning hopes only on national champion Wajid Ali. It’s hard to predict," he was quoted as saying. But, he said they will focus on the silver medal.
The organisers have decided to award bronze medals to both the third and fourth teams without holding a play off for the third place.
Pakistan Weightlifting Federation secretary Hafiz Imran Butt, hopes to claim four gold medals as against two gold, three silver medals Pakistan won in 2004.
The Rajapaksa-administration, misguided by JVP theoreticians and a section of the military leadership, has driven Sri Lanka towards an unwinnable war already inflicting untold suffering on people. Hopes for a quick victory are fast receding, and Sri Lanka is getting bogged down in a long, atrocious conflict with catastrophic economic consequences to follow.
The Tigers, on the other hand, may see the developing scenario as a God-given opportunity to get rid of the Sinhala troops stationed in Jaffna, restore its dented image following the ‘Karuna rebellion’ and win much-needed global sympathy for its cause.
Recent LTTE attacks have virtually cut off aerial/naval supply routes to some 40,000 troops in the Jaffna peninsula. (The Tiger-controlled Vanni belt of jungle terrain effectively blocks all land links to the north). The Tigers’ overall scheme is apparent in their rocketing of the Palaly airbase and the Trincomalee harbour.
Disconnecting all lifelines to Jaffna troops from the south, opening up several warfronts to confuse and drain them, and forcing the military to overstretch its capacity in the south –all appear parts of a well-thought-out strategy.
Successful attacks within high-security zones have shown the vulnerability of southern military/economic targets to Black Tiger strikes. The LTTE attack on the Pakistan ambassador’s military convoy allegedly engaged in a "suspicious mission" to see Sri Lanka’s president and the bombing of the military high command before that are all indicative of an effective intelligence network in place.
These are ominous signs indeed of what could be in store for the Colombo administration in the coming period.
The tense atmosphere engulfing the entire country will only deepen the economic mess and exacerbate spiralling living costs. In this climate, the JVP’s efforts to keep the lid on smouldering trade union unease may not work for long.
The labour unrest that broke out just before the military’s ‘Watershed Operation’ was temporarily halted thanks to JVP intervention. The president threatened to bring in troops to break up the strike wave in the energy sector.
How long the JVP would be able to control growing trade union discontent remains to be seen. If strikes eventually do break out and troop-mobilisation to counter a labour unrest becomes indispensable, then the military’s burden could reach unbearable heights.
The message is simple: The JVP-guided government strategy to reap quick results with pin-point aerial bombing is clearly failing; in all probability, the war will drag on. And the implications for the JVP and the Rajapaksa administration are dire.
If, on the other hand, global pressure forces both sides to revive the ceasefire agreement and negotiate, the LTTE is likely to emerge with an enhanced image, having overcome the reversals Karuna split had caused.
By contrast, the government’s way of handling the peace process – with an overtly hostile attitude towards the global players – has considerably damaged its image internationally. The whole world knows the government wanted to push the Tigers to the limit and start the war with ulterior motives.
The president’s trusted ally, the JVP, has publicly said everything the president was reluctant to say. But then the government’s actions have spoken louder than the JVP’s words.
Clearly, the government is loosing the propaganda war in relation to the present conflict, just like what happened to the Israeli government recently. And if there is going to be a globally-sponsored ceasefire and talks, the Tigers will emerge triumphantly, just as the Hezbollah did.
Whether in Lebanon, Iraq or Sri Lanka, wars perpetrated with hidden agendas are bound to backfire. Honest efforts to tackle the root causes of social conflicts are the key to peace – just as the efforts of Mandela and De Klerk once proved in South Africa.
Via Global Order
Around 12.10 pm, on Monday, a black Mercedes accompanied by a white defender jeep kept hurriedly snaking through traffic on Wijerama Mawatha. It was the car belonging to the High Commission of Pakistan. An hour later the jeep with its occupants was still parked in front of the official residence. Not much later, there was news coming in of an explosion in Colpetty where four of the occupants of the jeep had died. They may have not even had lunch.
They become another statistic to so many more past and present. A UNICEF press release from Geneva released on Tuesday looks at children who are victims of conflict in Sri Lanka. The specific reference is to reportedly 40 adolescent girls who had died and around 100 who were wounded by an air raid in Mullaitivu. The SLMM reported seeing 10 craters. These victims too become part of the statistics. Added to these ‘figures’ are 70,000 persons estimated as displaced by ICRC excluding those in the North due to recent fighting and insecurity?
Amongst the statistics are, areas and people not visited by humanitarian agencies where people have endured relentless fire from artillery shells and rockets. They are primarily in areas held by the LTTE in the East and Wanni. The LTTE in turn has also begun to persecute a war on government forces. The intensity and seriousness of the breaches to the CFA are such the SLMM has called it a piece of paper, indicated a willingness to leave the country etc. For observers it is akin to a movie being played out of a war which is still ‘not theirs’.
The stock market had reportedly shed Rs.16 bn on Monday afternoon, with evidently panic selling not resulting once casualty figures were known! What was not obviously important was the mayhem already on in areas in the north and east.
Each death should be an occasion of considerable anguish for the political leadership of this country. Particularly +those in government at present. In war attrition being undertaken against each other by the government and the LTTE a new logic of reason has been created. It is logic which walks out of the CFA. .The impact on people and country, is not noticed.
The press though criticized and attacked in some quarters remains open to highlighting the suffering of those trapped by violence on their lives. Nevertheless the indifference of a majority and the silent satisfaction in the minds of those who celebrate revenge is appalling. Close upon 35,000 persons from Mutur were violently wrenched out of their habitats and displaced within two days. An equal number may well be displaced by on going fighting off Jaffna. A further 11,000 to 15,000 are displaced within LTTE held areas of the east. Those with some sense of reason and sympathy are trying desperately hard for a way to halt this slide to a full blown war.
From the analysts, the readings are the government is surely persecuting a war to drive the LTTE to the fringes of the coast in the East while LTTE seems to be isolating government forces from supplies in the North. People in the Jaffna peninsula, Wanni and other areas out side government control have fast lost control of their lives where they remain alive with access to daily needs severely affected, physically trapped in a conflict zone, cut away from communication and literally in darkness. Surely a peace process and a ceasefire is, anything but this.
The UN, CHA, donors, diplomats supporting peace remain very concerned. Some diplomats lament the loss of reason by the parties to the CFA. Civil society agencies and many in the humanitarian sector show passive indecisiveness in the face of the indecency of war on civilians. Many have forgotten past examples, lack courage and conviction to pursue the truth and stand up against the tyranny of war on people or quite simply milk an existence hawking words.
Sheik Mujibur Rahman, the assassinated Prime Minister of independent Bangladesh evidently had a habit of calling newspaper editors on the phone at the end of the day to ask and understand the state of the country everyday. It is an example which leaders in office and opposition could well emulate.
The mothers. fathers and kith and kin of those are captives of war, poverty and discrimination have no direct link with levers of power. The media are a mirror of this scene in many instances. Quite recently a meeting had been hosted by GL with Ranil W and Karu J present where a galaxy of civic actors had engaged themselves on the issue of democracy and peace. An invitation by politicians is normally looked at with a degree of cynicism and doubt. However, in this instance the presence of those who matter in civil society is a good indicator a willingness at least to engage across sectoral divides.
Excluding the cost of conflict to date, which includes, displacement of persons belonging to all ethnic groups, and destruction of infrastructure, health care facilities and schools, approximately 2.5 million persons lived in areas of direct military activity were affected. 65,000 people were killed, 800,000 persons internally displaced and another 700,000 left the country. 172,000 persons lived in refugee camps in 2002, as well as 30,000 war widows and an estimated 300,000 children displaced in the Northeast. The school drop-out rate in the North East was almost double the national average, the infant mortality rate was twice the island-wide average and the maternal mortality rate was thrice the national average. 92% of malaria deaths in the island were reported from the region. With an estimated 1.8 million land mines in the North in 2002, the per capita incidence of land mines was comparable to Angola.
The sheer magnitude of the tsunami also needs remembrance. East claimed 60% of the damage. A damage which for all intentional purposes cannot be practically be focused on, given current uncertainties.
Impact of the tsunami was huge, Some key figures given below testify this. Number of people killed by the tsunami, 35.322 ; number of internally displaced people: 516,150 and about $900 million worth of assets were destroyed..
Nearly 200,000 have lost their livelihood. 75% of the total fishing fleet was destroyed. Sector output fell by 70% in the first quarter of 2005. 23,449 acres of cultivated agricultural land were salinated and 300 hotels and guesthouses and 210 small tourism enterprises damaged. 40,000 widows, orphans, elderly, and disabled individuals are in need of long-term support. 97 health facilities were damaged .
A total of 182 schools, 4 universities and 15 vocational training centers were damaged. Reconstruction of these facilities are estimated to be at $2.2 billion.
(Source: Task Force for Rebuilding the Nations (TAFREN), Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Ministry of Finance-National Planning Department and Sectoral Reports (Volume II))
With such baggage if issues to deal with it does require an extraordinary feat of callousness to persecute a war on all of us. In a time when war seems the reality and destruction a real possibility one draws inspiration and lessons from other contexts. South Africa being one such setting. Bishop Desmond Tutu in an interview looking at reconciliation had this to say:
‘GARDELS: The South African reconciliation and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process began about the same time. Yours succeeded, but the process in the Middle East has totally collapsed.
You have said that "there is no future without forgiveness," prompting the suggestion that what the Old Testament antagonists of the Middle East might need is a little dose of the New Testament — that is, forgiveness instead of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."
TUTU: There is no way peace and stability can come to the Middle East through the gun of vengeance. That is true. The Christian notion of forgiveness, let’s not forget, arises out of a Judeo-Christian tradition. In the book of the prophet Hosea, God asks him to take as his wife a woman who had become a prostitute. This was a parable illustrating that God would not abandon even the unfaithful, but would keep them and cleanse them. This idea of forgiveness is central in the Biblical faith.
One reason we succeeded in South Africa that is missing in the Middle East today is quality of leadership — leaders willing to make unpopular compromises, to go against their own constituencies, because they have the wisdom to see that would ultimately make peace possible.
In our case, F.W. De Klerk showed remarkable courage in his reforms, but he was blessed not with an intransigent, bitter and vengeful counterpart, but with the almost saintly magnanimity of Nelson Mandela. The whites wanted to dig in their heels and the liberation movement was hell-bent on demanding every pound of flesh through retributive justice akin to the Nuremberg Trial. Neither leader heeded these calls.
After 27 years in prison, no one could challenge Mandela when he said, "Let us forgive these guys." Like De Klerk, he acknowledged the humanity and the anguish of his adversary. Any process of peace is bound to collapse if this is missing.
De Klerk and Mandela also knew they couldn’t get everything they wanted. They had to compromise. Unless there are concessions, there is no negotiation. All or nothing is not a negotiation. So, too, in the Middle East. Israelis must have sovereign security, but they must abandon settlements and grant the Palestinians their own state.
In the end, though, it must be said, it is not the weak that can be magnanimous, but the strong.