The Lanka Academic

JUNE 21, 2008 EST, USA
VOL. 9, NO. 77


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Sri Lankan journalists cite intimidation
Associated Press, june 21. BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI

Associated Press writer

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ With civil war raging in Sri Lanka, the journalists trying to cover the conflict find themselves increasingly under siege.

They have been hounded by the government, attacked by unknown assailants and accused of aiding the rebels. Many reporters have been arrested or fled the country, while others have resorted to self-censorship, journalists said.

Rights groups blame much of the intimidation on the government, saying that since fighting with the Tamil Tigers flared more than two years ago, pressure has grown on journalists to report the official line.

When media don't comply _ reporting higher troop casualties or alleging corruption in arms purchases _ ``they are branded as traitors,'' said Sunanda Deshapriya of the Free Media Movement.

``The government does not accept that media can play a watchdog's role,'' he said.

Media Minister Anura Yapa denied the government was intimidating the media or orchestrating the assaults.

``We have no intention of suppressing media freedom. Why should we attack journalists and get our image tarnished?'' he said.

For their part, the rebels allow no independent media at all in their de facto state in the north, which they run as a dictatorship. The rebels also have been accused of killing journalists critical of them in the violence-plagued Jaffna peninsula.

Pressure on the media has grown along with the fighting. Both sides have been accused of exaggerating victories and downplaying defeats, while the government has restricted access to the war zone, making independent reporting difficult.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa recently summoned top media officials and warned them that the rebels, known formally as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, could be using their reports on the war to predict future military operations.

``I said that such information is a blow to the country at a time when we are trying to weaken the LTTE militarily,'' Rajapaksa told the Sunday Times.

Last year, two private newspapers critical of the government were closed down after the government accused them of links to the rebels; the printing press of the Sunday Leader, a pro-opposition newspaper, was torched by unknown attackers; and a radio station was forced off the air after a report on a rebel assault.

At least 100 reporters have been attacked, 25 journalists have fled the country and several others have gone underground, said Deshapriya of the Free Media Movement.

Many have been arrested, including J.S. Tissainayagam, a Sunday Times columnist who has been jailed without charge since March by the government's anti-terror squad.

Keith Noyahr, defense reporter for The Nation newspaper, was abducted by a group of men outside his home on May 22. Six hours later he was released, beaten and bloody.

No one has been charged with the attack, which came several weeks after Noyahr wrote a column about controversial military promotions.

Noyahr's colleagues said he and his editor have fled the country. The colleagues, who declined to give their names out of fear of repercussions, refused to provide contact details for either man, and calls to their mobile phones went unanswered.

In a letter to Rajapaksa last week, Joel Simon, executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, accused the government of stifling war reporting and doing nothing to protect reporters.

``Those who wish to harass, harm, or even kill journalists can operate with relative impunity in Sri Lanka,'' he wrote.

Days later, Rajapaksa established a committee of government ministers to look into the complaints.

In the face of the violence and intimidation, many journalists said they have stopped reporting information that might embarrass the government.

``We don't want to be pet-poodles of the government, (but) neither to antagonize the military,'' said Ranga Jayasuriya, defense columnist at the Lakbima News newspaper.

Iqbal Athas, a high-profile defense columnist for the Sunday Times who is routinely threatened, said this was the ``worst period'' in his 42-year career.

The government withdrew his security detail after nine years last year when he reported on irregularities in the purchase of fighter jets. The Ministry of Defense Web site accused Athas of working for ``the pro-terrorist propaganda machine'' and trying to sow ``disloyalty, suspicions, disobedience, rumors, etc.'' among troops.

``It's clear that what they want to do is silence me to not write anything they dislike,'' Athas said.

This week, he suspended his column.Discuss this story
Published: Sat Jun 21 13:04:31 EDT 2008

India against military solution to Tamil ethnic problem, june 21. Colombo, Jun 21 (PTI) Capping a closely-guarded visit by a high powered Indian delegation that met Sri Lankan Presiden Mahinda Rajapaksa, India today said it was not in favour of a military solution to the Tamil ethnic problem.

"India hopes that Sri Lanka can find a peaceful solution to the (ethnic) conflict within the framework of a united Sri Lanka that is acceptable to all the communities. We hope there is no military solution to the conflict," a senior Indian official said at the end of the two-day visit here of the delegation led by National Security Adviser M K Narayanan.

The team, which also included Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and Defence Secretary Vijay Singh, met Rajapaksa and held detailed discussions for about an hour.

None of the visiting Indian officials met the press and a brief statement was read out to the Indian journalists. More... Discuss this story
Published: Sat Jun 21 12:44:14 EDT 2008 Back to the top

Sri Lanka 's military says 8 Tamil rebels killed in new fighting in volatile north
Associated Press, Sat June 21, 2008 10:16 EDT . - - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Sri Lanka - 's military attacked Tamil Tiger rebel positions along the civil war's northern front lines by land and air Saturday, killing at least four guerrillas, the military said. Four other rebels were killed in clashes a day earlier, it said.

Air force helicopter gunships attacked a rebel gathering point in northern Mannar district to assist army troops fighting the rebels in the area, said air force spokesman Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara.

Nanayakkara did not give details about damage or casualties, but said the pilots hit their target.

Heavy fighting has been reported in Mannar in recent weeks.

In other fighting Saturday, army troops fired rocket-propelled grenades at a rebel bunker in northern Vavuniya district, killing four rebels, the military said in a statement.

Four other guerrillas were killed Friday in separate clashes in Welioya and Vavuniya districts, the military said. Nine government soldiers were wounded in the battles, it said.

Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan could not immediately be reached for comment.

It was not possible to independently verify the military's claims because journalists are banned from the northern jungles where much of the fighting takes place. Each side commonly exaggerates its enemy's casualties while playing down its own.

Fighting has escalated along the war's northern front lines since the government withdrew from a long-ignored cease-fire in January.

The government has pledged to capture the rebels' de facto state in the north and crush them by the end of the year.

The Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for minority Tamils, who have been marginalized by successive governments controlled by majority Sinhalese. More than 70,000 people have been killed.Discuss this story
Published: Sat Jun 21 12:40:33 EDT 2008 Back to the top

Sri Lanka mounts air strikes against Tiger rebels
afp, june 21. COLOMBO (AFP) Sri Lanka launched air attacks in rebel-held territory in the island's north on Saturday as ground troops killed at least four guerrillas, the defence ministry said... Back to the top

High-profile Indian team in Sri Lanka
Hindu, Jun 20. COLOMBO: A high-profile Indian team represented by the National Security Adviser M... Back to the top

Chinese company gets contract for construction at Lanka port
IANS, june 20. Colombo, June 19 (IANS) The government of Sri Lanka has offered a leading Chinese company the contract to build a fuel tank farm and bunkering facility at the new harbour at Hambantota in the southern part of the country, a media report said here Thursday... Back to the top

29 LTTE cadres, two soldiers killed in Lanka clashes, Jun 20. Colombo, Jun 20 (PTI) At least 29 LTTE cadres and two soldiers were killed in intense battles across the embattled Northern Sri Lanka, officials said here today... Back to the top

S.Lanka shares up 1.1 pct on peace talk speculation, Fri Jun 20, 2008 8:37am EDT. COLOMBO, June 20 (Reuters) - Sri Lankan shares rose 1.11 percent to a one-week high on Friday, posting their first rise in 10 sessions as investors speculated on a resumption of peace talks between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels ... Back to the top

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