|The LTTE propaganda machine|
|Tuesday, 16 September 2008|
by: Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretary - Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights
It took no great foresight to anticipate that, when the Sri Lankan forces began operations to liberate the North of Sri Lanka from the LTTE, as they had done the East in late 2006 and 2007, their opponents would launch an avalanche of complaints. Over the last month they have claimed that there is a humanitarian crisis, with thousands of displaced persons suffering without food or shelter or medicine. The fact that all the evidence they cited, from officials on the ground, Sri Lankan or UN, referred only to future problems, whilst saying that the existing situation was under control, was ignored, with headlines often totally contradicting the substance of the report.
It was of course obvious that future problems could be minimized if the LTTE just let people go to the safety of government controlled areas, as had happened in the East in 2006 and 2007. But it was known that there was little possibility of this, since clearly it benefited the LTTE to make the people suffer and then claim that the Sri Lankan government was responsible. And more frighteningly, there was another reason for the LTTE holding on to the people, namely the possibility of using them as human shields.
For from the start it was apparent that, more than the problem of meeting the humanitarian needs of the displaced, it was even more emotive allegations that the LTTE was preparing. Thus those susceptible to its influence began way back in 2007 to talk of indiscriminate attacks on civilians, even though no evidence whatsoever could be produced for this claim (save for one incident, which was readily explained as having arisen from mortar directing radar, the LTTE having used people in an IDP camp as human shields). And recently it has succeeded, whilst openly using the word genocide, to get others too to claim that the military is allegedly violating international law in its operations, a claim for which again no evidence at all is adduced.
Interestingly, it has also begun to claim that the government decision to ask the UN and NGOs to leave the Wanni is a precursor to such genocide. The Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations has made such a claim, alleging that already (though the aid workers had still not even begun to leave) there was an air raid on Kilinochchi town, an indiscriminate attack which resulted in ‘wounding a 90 year old man, a 11 year old boy…..A 23 year old pregnant mother had to be operated due to fetal death caused by the bombardment and a 1 year old child was admitted to the hospital in an unconscious state’. The attack is supposed to have ‘taken place at the heart of the town’ which must have been astonishingly empty if this was part of indiscriminate genocide. Nowhere of course is it mentioned that the Sri Lankan government continues to run the medical services, paying for the hospital and the staff and sending regular supplies of drugs.
But the excesses of such LTTE agencies have to be accepted for what they are. What is astonishing is to find them repeated by a supposedly respectable agency like the Australian Council for International Development. Its Executive Director Paul O’Callaghan has given an interview to Australia’s ABC Radio which seems surreal, at any rate as reported by Tamilnet. In discussing the report of that interview, I can only hope that he has been misrepresented, given the extraordinary number of errors in his account.
LTTE’s Child Soldiers Training Camp in Kilinochchi
He claims for instance that, ‘according to UN estimates, 40% of all children in the North are currently malnourished and don’t have access to any prospect of food’. The 40% figure has anyway been challenged, and since the vast number of children in the North live in government controlled areas, the idea that they will not have access to any prospect of food is preposterous. Mr O’Callaghan is doubtless not aware, so successful has the hype of NGOs been, that it is the government of Sri Lanka that, through its officials, continues responsible for regular supplies of food as well as rations for IDPs. Though aid pays for some of the food, the government provides a share too, and in any case the acquisition of food in those areas, for instance rice from farmers, is done by government. The Government Agents report to the central government, and when they were last in Colombo a couple of weeks back, they were clear about the availability of food. If 40% of children have no prospect of access to what the government sends up, presumably that would be due to the LTTE which controls those areas decreeing that they should suffer.
As far as the government is concerned, to cite some simple statistic, the Ministry of Nation Building has supplied nearly 10,000 metric tonnes of mixed food items to the Wanni in the January to August period. This is indicative of the Government’s commitment to ensure the welfare of Sri Lankan citizens wherever they are located. This commitment – proven by longstanding practice – is unfortunately not reflected in the ACFID statement. Contrary to the insinuations regarding the nutritional status of persons in the Wanni, the WFP has not only assisted the Government to transport food into the Wanni (7,000 MT) but has also procured and distributed 3,650 MT of rice within the District due to a surplus of rice production.
Again, Mr O’Callaghan is reported as saying that IDPs have been deprived of medicine, which is another canard, since medical stocks have been sent as required, and the Director of Health reported most recently that matters were under control, though of course future epidemics were to be feared. Again, to cite statistics, the Ministry of Health has supplied over 330 million Rupees worth of medical supplies to the North (including Rs. 70 million to the Districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu) in 2008, while the Ministry of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services has supplied Rs 35 million in emergency supplies to IDPs in these districts in response to requests from local administrators.
Mr O’Callaghan then accuses the government of ‘having received the highest number of complaints of any government in the United Nations Human Rights Commission over recent years’. He evidently does not know that the Commission was abolished a couple of years back, and that there is now a Human Rights Council. The Council, as with the Commission, does not receive complaints, instead there are mechanisms to complain to various treaty bodies, along with special procedures and mechanisms for individual complaints. These do not collate their figures, but thus far none of those who love statistics have placed Sri Lanka top of the world.
Sri Lanka was not reviewed recently by this non-existent Commission as a result of such complaints as the apparently hallucinating Mr O’Callaghan alleges. Sri Lanka volunteered to be one of the first countries to subject itself to the Universal Periodic Review, which 47 countries will undergo this year. Far from committing to protect civilians only as a result of this review, Sri Lanka was commended by several countries for continuing to provide social services even to those of its citizens in areas it did not control. It pledged to continue with such services, and the work it has thus far done in the North is only a continuation of what it provided for IDPs in the East. That programme, and the rapid returns, were commended by the UNHCR, which told me last week in Geneva how they combated the criticism of some NGOs who were determined to claim that things were bad. I only hope ACFID was not one of these, which was not prepared to accept the UN verdict.
Mr O’Callaghan thinks that the government decision to ask NGOs to leave is a change in policy. Obviously he has not bothered to look at the reasons for the decision, which have to do with the ruthless advantage the LTTE has taken of NGOs, including commandeering their vehicles for military purposes, and even exploding a claymore, designed it seems to throw the blame on Sri Lankan forces. Mr O’Callaghan has also ignored the fact that initially the government had wanted the World Food Programme to continue. Though now they will leave along with the rest of the UN, the ICRC will continue. The UN too will continue to provide resources for food, and the government will continue with and develop mechanisms to ensure distribution.
But most worrying of all is the claim that he ‘has expressed fear of a blood bath’. This is so bizarre that it is possible this is simply the regular spin that the LTTE employs. However, he is quoted as saying that the government ‘is also ensuring no independent sources exist to comment on ground realities’, ie, forgetting that the ICRC will continue, he has swallowed wholesale the LTTE myth. This, going beyond the humanitarian concerns, is what the LTTE wants to sell, and what sadly naïve and it seems ignorant do-gooders like Mr O’Callaghan will buy, without any recourse to precise language or logic or truth.
(Courtesy : Ministry of Disaster Managment & Human Rights )
|Last Updated ( Monday, 09 March 2009 )|
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