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INDICTMENT AGAINST SRI LANKA
Sri Lanka's Continued Ethnic Cleansing ...
Colombo: The last phase of Sri Lanka�s low-intensity military conflict saw the elimination of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as a military force. It simultaneously witnessed a poignant human drama in which some 300,000 Tamil civilians were rescued by force of arms from a terrorist organisation that, claiming to fight for their freedom, had no compunction in using them as a human shield.
Most of these internally displaced Sri Lankans are now housed and cared for by the government in transitional relief camps located in five demarcated zones of the 1500-acre Menik Farm on the outskirts of the town of Vavuniya in the mainland North. International concern has been expressed over the present condition and the future of these Tamil civilians, who include a large number of children, women, and senior citizens.
Following a three-hour conversation, including a recorded interview, with President Mahinda Rajapaksa at �Temple Trees� in Colombo, I had, at his suggestion and thanks to the helicopter and other facilities provided by the Defence Ministry, the opportunity of seeing for myself how the Tamil IDPs were being sheltered and cared for in the camps. It was an uplifting experience, which is reflected in some measure in the photographs by Thilak Bandara published on this page. The sight of tens of schoolchildren returning from makeshift schools and of the distribution by the Controller of Examinations and his team of preparatory material for the A-level exams, which will be taken in a month, was special.
What became clear during the visit to Anandakumaraswamy Village in Zone 1, through glimpses of other camps in the vast IDP relief complex, and in conversations in Tamil with some of the displaced people was this.
Conditions in these camps are much better than what has been depicted, mostly second-hand, that is, without visiting the camps, in western media reports. Moreover, they are visibly better than conditions in Sri Lankan refugee camps in India, which are still mostly inaccessible to journalists, researchers, and other outsiders. Basic needs, including education for the schoolchildren and vocational training for older boys and girls, are being met by the Sri Lankan government with assistance from the United Nations, a number of countries, including India, and more than 50 INGOs.
Hearteningly, the best hospital in the Menik Farm IDP relief complex is the one staffed and provisioned by the Indian Medical Team with its eight doctors, four nurses, and overall strength of 60, including senior and junior paramedics. After this highly skilled and dedicated medical team, led by Dr. K. Vasantha Kumar, moved to Settikulam from Pulmodai (in the East) in March, it has treated close to 13,000 Tamil civilians and performed several surgical operations.
In his interview, which will be published in The Hindu on Monday, President Rajapaksa claimed, without exaggeration, that �the condition in the camps is the best any country has.� He admitted some �shortcomings,� chief among them being a lack of �freedom of movement.�
But he also emphasised his responsibility for the security of his people and pointed to the need to speed up the work of de-mining in the heavily mined Wanni, which needed to be certified by the U.N. He reiterated his personal commitment to resettle all the Tamil civilians speedily.
The Sri Lankan government is now confident that the President�s 180-day resettlement plan can be implemented. This confidence would have been boosted by the unexpected success of the first meeting of the All Parties Committee for Development and Reconciliation, in which all parties, including the Tamil National Alliance, promised cooperation and support to the project of reconciliation and development in the North.
A friend asked me to look at the last page of the Hindu today (July 4th, 2009). At a first look, it appeared as though there were a lot of advertisements on the page. After a closer observation, I found out that I was not far from the truth. The lead article �Visiting the Vavuniya IDP camps: an uplifting experience� is nothing short of an advertisement for the Lankan government. The article flows like a good corporate ad � the (non-existent) virtues of the Lankan state have been overstated while its miserable failures have been understated.
I�ve been associated with the media enough to know how the Hindu functions, what are its holy cows, and its perception of �ethics.� I understand �Manufacturing Consent� well enough to know how your dependence on being in the good books of the government and the corporates influences your paper�s stance. But what I don�t understand is your paper�s belief that your reader will accept your stories as gospel truth � this reflects in the quality of quite some your articles which are ideal cases of pamphleteering. And today�s article by Mr N. Ram takes the Oscar.
I fail to understand how a visit to any refugee camp can be an �uplifting experience,� as Mr. Ram describes it. Every refugee is a tale of tragedy, a product of unfavourable circumstances beyond her/his control. And in Sri Lanka, they are products of an ethnic war, the roots of which lie in decades of state sponsored discrimination against the Tamils. Do you seriously think that all of your readers would fall for those pictures of all smiles and no tears?
Do you think that we would believe that the Tamils would be happy in camps set up by a government that massacred their people by the thousands to apprehend a handful of so-called �terrorists�?
Never would the Hindu publish a story that is even mildly in praise of Israel. Never would the Hindu miss an opportunity to highlight the plight of the Palestinians. But different standards apply for genuine liberation movements in India, Sri Lanka and China. But then, you have no interests worthy of concern in Israel. The Israeli govt doesn�t give your journalists free access like Sri Lanka or China. You don�t ruffle feathers in the Indian govt by adopting a pro-Palestinian stance but you might lose your precious government ads by being pro-Tamil or even mildly supportive of those brave tribals of Lal Garh. And let us not forget the Sri Lanka Ratna conferred on your Editor-in-chief by the Lankan state. Thus, the mistakes of the Lankan govt and the misery of the Tamil people � they don�t exist for the Hindu.
You try to portray a picture of being an �ethical� newspaper but your selective morality stands exposed in your coverage of people�s movements in and around India. You are no where near radical � you want to play it safe, be on the good side of the establishment. And your leftist stance? A farce, that will dropped at the first instance of trouble. I am willing to bet that if the Maoists target your interests tomorrow, you will sing paeans to the Salwa Judum. Even pro-right media orgs are better than you. At least they are honest about their stance.