War on terror revisited:Foreign media factor in LTTE operation

The Indian police have filed charges against a veteran journalist working for an Iranian news agency, in connection with a terrorist attack on an Israeli embassy car last February.

It was the first arrest over the February 13 attack that Israel has blamed Iran of perpetrating. An Israeli diplomat’s wife, her driver and two others were wounded and the blast coincided with an attack on another Israeli diplomat in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The Indian media quoted New Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat as having said that Kazmi was arrested in New Delhi and charged with criminal conspiracy.

News channel NDTV reported that Syed Mohammed Kazmi had been in touch with one of the attackers. He was not directly involved in the attack itself, in which a motor-cyclist attached a bomb to the car and set off the device.

The Indian investigation didn’t trigger protests by various media groups and Western embassies. Western media groups too, remained largely silent on the arrest, as India pursued investigations. India and Israel are working closely on the unprecedented inquiry. India and Israel will not tolerate interference or any attempt to shield the suspect on the basis of him being a journalist.

The first-time arrest of a local journalist by India in connection with an international terrorist plot should be examined closely.

LTTE and the media

The LTTE in spite of having lost its military power continues to launch propaganda assaults on Sri Lanka on the media front. A section of the international media is relentlessly attacking the Sri Lankan government over accountability issues in a bid to pave for the way for an external intervention.

As External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L Peiris pointed out on the opening day of the three-day seminar themed “Towards Lasting Peace and Stability” on Aug. 8, at Hotel Galadari that the LTTE remained confident of achieving its objective, in spite of losing the war. Prof. Peiris explained the danger in a section of the international community promoting those still pursuing the LTTE’s agenda through other means. The success of the ongoing LTTE operation will depend largely on the media, particularly selected groups of international media outfits, which remain overtly supportive of the LTTE.

Before discussing the international media operations against Sri Lanka, it would be pertinent to mention the circumstances under which the UK based Channel 4 recently launched a scathing attack on India, as regards accountability issues in Jammu and Kashmir.

The UK media outfit, Channel 4, pursuing international a war crimes inquiry against Sri Lanka has now accused India of war crimes in Jammu and Kashmir.

The hour-long TV documentary, ‘Kashmir’s torture trail’ lashed out at India over atrocities committed by its troops, while the UK’s Guardian newspaper, too, attacked the Indian government also on the same issue.

Last year, both India and Sri Lanka were lambasted by some UK MPs during a debate, which dealt with the human rights situation in the Indian sub continent.

It would be interesting to know the reaction of the British foreign office, which in the immediate aftermath of the telecasting of “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’’ in June 2011, warned Sri Lanka of dire consequences, unless it investigated war crimes.

India is a key member of the 47-member UNHRC divided into five regional groups. India voted for the US-led resolution targeting Sri Lanka at the 19th sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva last February.

It would be important to establish how the Channel 4 production team had been in the Kashmir valley at the time of last year’s stone-pelting incidents, where over 100 youth were killed.

Many an eyebrow has been raised over the possibility of the production team having prior information as regards the planned protests, which led to the killings.

Retired Brigadier H. F. Rupesinghe says the media remains a key element in the LTTE strategy, though the group lost its conventional military capability in May 2009.

In an interview with The Island, last year, the retired artillery officer said: “I received information about their ‘media operation’ directed from Chennai way back in 1986. I was the senior officer in charge of Jaffna at that time and had to deal with foreign correspondents. It is quite apparent that the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi threw his weight behind the LTTE at the behest of the LTTE’s Chennai-based Advisory Committee, which functioned as the headquarters for the LTTE and a key agency for the Tamil Diaspora in quest of a nation for the Tamils the world over. During a conversation with an American journalist, I expressed shock and regret over an influential section of the international media being biased towards Tamil terrorist groups, while being critical of the Sri Lankan security forces. The American revealed the existence of the Chennai-based Advisory Committee of the LTTE and its monthly meetings with the participation of many correspondents of various print and electronic media, including the wire services. The American admitted that he participated in two meetings in Chennai, where they discussed an anti-Sri Lanka propaganda campaign. The American revealed that the LTTE looked after the journalists well.”

Asked whether the then government allowed foreign journalists to visit Jaffna in the pre-IPKF period, Rupesinghe said: “It wasn’t long after the American’s visit, that a BBC correspondent accompanied by an Australian, who was introduced to me as the BBC man’s understudy, arrived in Jaffna. They contacted the Jaffna Command and inquired whether I as Security Forces Commander in Jaffna wanted to meet them. They were told that I wasn’t interested in meeting them, unless they wanted a meeting. That was part of their strategy to step up pressure on the government. I knew they represented the interests of the LTTE. As the BBC correspondent was setting his voice recorder, I inquired from the Australian whether he had been to Chennai recently. The Australian blushed and turned towards the BBC correspondent, who grudgingly admitted their sojourn in Chennai 10 days ago.

The BBC correspondent inquired whether my troops move out of Palaly or I travel overland from Palaly to Jaffna. I explained that troops moved out of Palaly to collect their rations from the KKS harbour. In response to his second query, I said it was the policy of the government to avoid situations which could lead to unnecessary civilian casualties and deaths and terrorism would be crushed with the support of the local Tamil speaking population. The BBC didn’t use my comments, obviously because they didn’t serve their propaganda purposes.

The same BBC correspondent gave wide coverage to a statement attributed to his predecessor, who foolishly said: “the domination by security forces extend only up to the perimeter fences of their camps”. “We were greatly embarrassed. The then National Security Minister the late Lalith Athulathmudali was furious and expressed his concerns and disappointment to the officer concerned”.

Commenting on Colonel Hariharan’s coverage of Sri Lankan issues, Brig. Rupasinghe said: The Colonel comments on security issues as the former intelligence head of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) during 1987 and 1990. Obviously, he is disappointed that our armed forces had the strength to destroy the LTTE’s conventional military capability and also wipe out its leadership. Hariharan couldn’t be unaware of how India created a monster to facilitate its Sri Lankan strategy, though the likes of Colonel Hariharan had conveniently forgotten sordid Indian operations here.

LTTE triumph attracts media

The fall of the strategic Elephant Pass base in April 2000 attracted many foreign journalists to Colombo. The collapse of the army’ 54 Division headquartered at Elephant Pass with the loss of hundreds of lives and equipment worth millions of US dollars ranging from armoured fighting vehicles to long range artillery fueled speculation that Jaffna would fall within weeks, if not days. At one point, a desperate government even contemplated the evacuation of the entire military contingent from the Jaffna peninsula. Had that happened, the LTTE would have unleashed its powerful forces on Mannar, Vavuniya, Weli Oya and the northern most bases held by the military on the east coast. Anticipating a quick LTTE victory on the northern front, the international media gathered in Colombo. However, the troops managed to halt the LTTE offensive, just outside Jaffna, and launched an offensive of their own.

Most important story since war

The on-going LTTE efforts to haul Sri Lanka’s military and political leaders up before an international war crimes inquiry largely depends on the capacity of the media to produce evidence of atrocities committed by GoSL forces during the eelam war. From time to time, a section of the media makes various revelations, asserting that serious violations had taken place, particularly on the Vanni front.

New Delhi based Ravi Nessman of the Associated Press recently reported the recovery of cluster ammunition on the Vanni east front used by GoSL forces on the basis of an internal UN communiqué. Nessman’s exclusive on April 26, 2012, generated media heat on the GoSL. But when the army sought information as regards the recovery, the UN failed to produce evidence or at least point out the exact location where the prohibited ammunition was found buried in sand. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s expert panel which investigated accountability issues, too, referred to the alleged use of cluster ammunition by the Sri Lankan security forces.

Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya pointed out the sheer absurdity of the allegation, as the ongoing de-mining operation was nearing completion. Since the army called for the UN to produce proof, there hadn’t been further reports on alleged recovery of banned ammunition. Nessman had been the AP man in Colombo, during the conflict.

Although it was subsequently proved baseless, the New Delhi datelined report was taken quite seriously by a section of the media, especially some websites run by pro-LTTE NGOs. However, there hadn’t been any fresh reports on the cluster bomb issue. One such media outfit called Nessman’s story the most important story since the conclusion of the conflict.

The UK Guardian on April 22, 2009 on the basis of information provided by a doctor alleged that a hospital was targeted with cluster ammunition. The story captioned Sri Lanka: ‘Civilians are dying, and the hospital is paralyzed,’ was based on information provided by Thangamutha Sathiyamorthy, a doctor working at the hospital in Puttumatalan.

The Guardian quoted Sathiyamorthy as having described appalling conditions inside the no-fire zone, with cluster bomb attacks killing and injuring many civilians, including a doctor.

Speaking by radio telephone from a temporary hospital at Mullaivaikal, he said the bodies still lay where they were, inside their bunkers.

In spite of resettlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction taking place at a rapid pace with the support of the international community, the media and NGOs at the behest of the LTTE continues to carry out an anti-Sri Lanka campaign. Their desperate attempt to prevent the deportation of failed asylum seekers on the basis of continuing human rights abuses is a major international media issue.

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