Truth, the casualty of Lankan war

Truth is often the first casualty of war. That’s never truer than in the more than two decades of conflict in Sri Lanka. Recently, we have had Josep Goebbels-like pronouncements from the government and the LTTE, almost daily — each one claiming victory or success; strangely no one gets defeated. There are only winners if one is to believe the government or the LTTE. No one knows the truth because journalists or aid workers are barred from entering the theatre of battle, now largely in the Tamil rebel-held Wanni region and outlying areas.

The government says the LTTE began firing artillery and mortar at its posts and camps; the LTTE version — not unexpected in reverse gear. Its safe to assume that hundreds including soldiers, rebel cadres, civilians and aid workers have died in more than a month of heavy fighting that first began when troops launched an offensive to re-capture the Mawil Aru anicut or water supply point in eastern Trincomalee district.

When the military advance became close to succeeding, the Tigers shifted strategy and directed artillery fire at the giant navy dockyard and military base at Trincomalee and then fought huge gun battles with security forces in nearby Mutur. The military said troops have finally wrested control of the Mawil Aru anicut but fierce battles are raging in another part of the conflict areas — Muhamalai in northern Jaffna.

The fighting has led to food and fuel shortages, cancellations of all commercial flights from Colombo to Jaffna and no ships taking supplies or transporting commercial passengers. Journalists in Jaffna say banks are allowing only up to Rs 900 to be withdrawn from accounts. But not much of that is appearing in the local media. A lot is being said by international news agencies always on the field and the first to reach trouble spots. That’s because as one local journalist said: “Our newspaper says you go to the troubled areas at your own risk,” unlike local journalists working for international news agencies who have all the support including full insurance cover in case of injury or death.

The government has ‘gently’ told the media not to glorify the Tigers. So truth and balanced reporting gets thrown on the wayside. The LTTE is an ever-worst Goebbels than the government. The news media in Jaffna is intimidated into reporting the ‘truth’ — the way the LTTE sees it.

The government insisted it had bombed a rebel training camp and there was nothing it could do if children were being used to train as rebel fighters and carry guns. The Tigers said it was children undergoing a first aid course and had nothing to do with the rebels. The rebels were silent on the fact that it was indeed a complex set up earlier by the LTTE where educational courses were being run; the government failed to acknowledge it was unfortunate that children had died. UNICEF and the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, who visited the site, said they didn’t see any signs of military activity or a rebel camp. But their statements were either vague or unsure whether these children were being trained by the rebels or some civilian group. Truth once again being a casualty of the war.

Samath, a freelancer, wri-tes for THT from Colombo