|Parroting Pathos - the BBC Sinhala Service pronounces|
|Tuesday, 02 September 2008|
by: Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
The following was sent to the BBC Sinhala Service in response to a report it had produced on August 27th. It has been reproduced by the official web site of the Sri Lankan Government’s Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP), since it was not used by the BBC; or since some of the issues raised deserve a wider provenance.
More Catholic than the Bishops
I write with reference to yet another misleading feature in the coverage by the BBC Sinhala Service of the Sri Lankan situation. On August 27th, it headlined an item ‘Catholic Church writes to Ban ki Moon’, whereas the report was about a letter sent by Fr. James Pathinathan, President of what is termed a ‘Justice and Peace Commission’.
The letter was full of errors and emotive language, for which the BBC of course cannot be blamed. Nor can Fr. Pathinathan, since the poor soul seems to be in LTTE held territory, and cannot therefore be held responsible, by man at any rate, for his errors.
The Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights contacted the anointed representatives of the Catholic Church as soon as the BBC pronouncement was brought to his notice. The Archbishop’s Office in Colombo said that Fr. Pathinathan came under the Bishop of Mannar. When we contacted the Bishop of Mannar, he said he thought Fr. Pathinathan came under the Bishop of Jaffna. The Minister check with the Bishop on the situation in the Wanni, and he noted that the Sri Lankan forces had not harmed civilians. He asserted this unasked, since we were concerned about the humanitarian situation, an assertion that deserves due publicity, as Fr. Pathinathan’s outburst suggests otherwise.
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
We then contacted the Bishop of Jaffna, who also did not know about Fr. Pathinathan. However, the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka is almost as broad as the Anglican one in Britain, so it is possible that Fr. Pathinathan sees himself as a regular member of the Church, and his Justice and Peace Commission as a sanctified body. The BBC however, even its Sinhala Service, should not promote his claims by suggesting that he speaks for the Church, Militant or otherwise.
Food and Protection Issues
With regard to the substance of his letter, his claims of a ‘Draconian economic embargo’ are strange when the government officials working in the Wanni as well as UN agencies testify to the fact that food and shelter have been supplied without cessation, inclusive of handouts for the IDPs. We monitor the prices in the area, and they have remained stable for the last couple of years, following a glitch at the time when the LTTE attacked one of the checkpoints and forced its closure. However, the road from the south has remained open throughout, and a year ago we were able to persuade the ICRC to obtain the required guarantees to open it every day. Previously they had been restricted, despite government requests, to three days a week.
The BBC quotes the good Father as saying that ‘The sanctity of the civilian settlements, hospitals, schools and places of worship are blatantly violated with impunity’. This is contradicted both by the Bishop’s appreciation of the care taken by the forces not to harm civilians and also by the absence of claims that any such violation has taken place. Even the smallest collateral damage to any such place is promptly circulated around the world, sometimes through the good offices of the BBC Sinhala Service. However, there has been almost no reporting of such over the last couple of months since the forces started moving into previously LTTE held territory in the North. In such a context, the BBC’s failure to draw attention to the fraudulent nature of his claims is regrettable.
The Sri Lankan government, through its dedicated officials still working in those areas under difficult circumstances, monitors the situation carefully, and provides humanitarian assistance as quickly as possible when it is required. It is for this reason that even the most dedicated enemies of the Sri Lankan state find it difficult to do more than predict dire problems, rather than claim they are occurring – as with the recent assertion on the LTTE Peace Secretariat Website, ‘Kilinochchi medical chief warns health disaster if precaution not taken’. Of course. But we are taking precautions, whereas the LTTE is trying to precipitate a disaster by not letting people leave.
Manipulation of Statistics
It is also nonsense to talk of 170,000 recently displaced. At the last meeting of the Ministries concerned, along with the UNHCR, it was noted that additional displacements up to the end of July in the Kilinochchi District came to about 17,000. For Mullaitivu the figure was 37,000. Even assuming larger numbers in August, the figure is nothing like 170,000.
The figures being quoted are because of what are termed ‘old IDPs’, some of whom have been dislocated again. It may not be remembered that, when this government took office at the end of 2005, there was a caseload of over 300,000 IDPs who were looked after by government. A large proportion of these were Muslims expelled by the LTTE from the North in 1990. No previous government had tried to alleviate their difficulties, perhaps because they were engaged in appeasement of the LTTE. That pusillanimity has now ceased and, as Prof. Walter Kalin, UN Special Representative on the Human Rights of IDPs, noted, this government has made a start in helping those suffering people.
Unfortunately, about another 100,000 of those old IDPs were in areas controlled by the LTTE. There was no change in their status even during the Ceasefire Period when the then government bent over backwards to assist the LTTE to rehabilitate itself and those it controlled. All this was to no avail, perhaps because the LTTE took advantage of the rations the government continued to supply in terms of figures that were regularly inflated, to 94,000 for instance for Mullaitivu District.
Interestingly, the estimate for the entire population of Mullaitivu was 146,000, but despite this the government of Sri Lanka continued to supply food for 127,000 people. You can now understand why the LTTE’s fighters are so hefty. Some people might call this altruism of the Sri Lankan government foolish, but we know that if we let up on such supplies it would be innocent civilians who suffer, and the LTTE fighters would continue hefty. We have therefore fed all our people for the last decade, and will continue to do so.
In short, the government will do its duty by its people. If a crisis is imminent, it is because the LTTE will not let our people escape to cleared territory, it is because they will place difficulties in the way of the assistance we continue to send up. Unfortunately some reports seek, as part of a spurious balance or neutrality, to suggest that the government is also at fault, for not ceasing at once to launch attacks. Such a course would only continue the suffering of the IDPs whom the LTTE has kept as such for several decades – unlike in the East, where government reduced the over 200,000 IDPs caused by the 2006/2007 liberation movement to fewer than 30,000 now. We plan to do the same for the North, and restore democracy there, within a similarly short time frame.
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
(Courtesy : SCOPP )
|Last Updated ( Monday, 09 March 2009 )|
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