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Perspectives

May 4, 2009
Journalists barred from front lines as war rages in Sri Lanka

A photo of civilian refugees released by the Sri Lankan army. Source: IRIN

As the Sri Lankan government continues its assault against the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE ), journalists and most aid groups have been barred from the front lines — meaning the conflict is largely hidden and reports are difficult to verify. 

The Tamil Tigers have long fought for an independent state for Sri Lanka’s Tamil ethnic minority, but the government is now pushing into their last stronghold — a strip of land only four square miles in size. 

Morten Hvaal is a photographer based in Sri Lanka. He writes at “Frontline” about his frustration at being prevented from covering “what might be left of the war.”

For more on the conflict, listen to our online radio show on Sri Lanka’s civil war.

Free Tiger tour, anyone?

So, “Foreign media taken on a free ride by the LTTE“, according to the Sri Lankan Government’s propaganda website “Media Centre For National Security” (MCNS). Apparently, many of us are terrorist sympathisers and, well, stupid. I might actually have been insulted, had I not been at the receiving end of similar accusations for many months now. And, one does need to try and stay in the MCNS’ good books, because they too occasionally take the foreign media on free rides.

Saturday morning, 0500hrs, a military airport in Colombo; I’m reading the printed program for the day’s “VISIT OF MEDIA PERSONAL” (sic) to, amongst several other unpronounceable locations, Pudumathalan, which is on the frontline to the LTTE-held “no-fire zone”. After several hours of flights, briefings, displays of captured LTTE weapons, refreshments and rides in armoured personnel carriers the motley crew of close to 30 sweating journalists and a handful of senior Sri Lankan military officers dismount “near the front line”. 

The television talking heads do their thing: “We’re at the front line where LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is about to face his destiny”. Except we’re not. The front line is four or five kilometres away. All we can see is a dirt road, Pudhumathalan lagoon, some very relaxed-looking soldiers and a few red buses, supposedly waiting to transport civilians coming out of the no-fire zone. Apart from the chatter of the TV crews it’s quiet.

The ultimate proof of how safely removed we are from what might be left of the war is that two of the Sri Lankan Army’s most important general officers are happy to hang around and chat. Both are adamant that it would all be over soon if it weren’t for the civilians. No surprises there; everything indicates that the Tigers are on their last legs as a conventional fighting force, and the generals are visibly proud to declare that the army has killed thousands of terrorists. The surprise comes when they say they’re not killing any civilians. 

People are getting hurt though. Our departure from the helipad at nearby Puthukudirippu is delayed, and while we wait several casualties arrive in ambulances, only to be loaded back in and driven off again after we try and photograph them. At the same time we start hearing the sound of distant detonations. 

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Comments

4 comments

#4

You obviously not prepared to go gorilla, Mr Photographer. You wont the war brought in front of your lenses by SL MOD? Perhaps you are too old for the trade of a troubleshooter? And obviously for serious writing as well I guess.

#3

It is a obvious that Sinhalese Army is shelling Tamil civilians to death indiscriminately,and maiming thousands who languish with the barest minimum of medical attention. It is a shame that UN and the International community watch helplessly as these atrocities are going on. One would have hoped that this barbarism would stop as long as there is an iota of conscience left in each of us..UN has failed us again.

#2

http://sites.google.com/site/helpsavetamils

Tamils living outside Sri Lanka know the truth. -because they have relatives who have been killed/injured in the North-East of SL. Many in the Tamil Diaspora have been victims of Sri Lankan State terror / Army atrocities.

ALL OF THESE SRI LANKAN STATE ATROCITIES HAVE BEEN DOCUMENTED WITH FULL EVIDENCE WITH HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANISATIONS. You can check with them yourselves. Or check the reports published on Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Red Cross.

International Media should not become a mouthpiece of the Sri Lankan govt. Please report the TRUTH or atleast publish the reports from Tamil Journalists, Politicians and Medical Staff.

I remind you, the Sinhala people are NOT SUFFERING!

But the Tamil people ARE SUFFERING!!!!

– Tamils are living in fear in Sri Lanka. They have a miserable life.

– Tamils are afraid of the Sri Lankan Police & Army.

– Tamils are living in fear of Sinhala Thugs, Criminals: ex-Sinhala Army Soldiers who deserted SL Army, Drug Dealers and other criminals.

– Tamils are living in fear of Kidnappers. Most are kidnapped at random by Sri Lankan Intelligency Agency (Secret Police) and tortured for information on LTTE.
– many innocent Tamils languish in Prisons today
– many innocent Tamils have been brutally TORTURED?

– many Tamil girls have been RAPED by the Sinhala SL Army. (Yes, the same army, more than a 100 of them, who got caught red-handed in Haiti on their UN mission)

– – – –

Would the Sri Lanka Govt/Army (Sinhalese) have fired artillery/mortar shells, indiscriminate Aerial Bombardments, Cluster Bombs & Chemical Weapons if the civilians were actually Sinhalese? (No! ofcourse not!)

HELP SAVE TAMILS

> website >

sites.google.com/site/helpsavetamils

INDICTMENT AGAINST SRI LANKA: WAR CRIMES, GENOCIDE

> website >

TamilNation.org/indictment/index.htm

#1

Oh you poor whiteman, that you can’t get your fix by taking photographs of suffering people. And why can’t these darkies in Sri Lanka give names to their villages that us civilised people can pronounce?

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