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U.N. envoy for tsunami recovery seeks revival of talks in Sri Lanka

B. Muralidhar Reddy

"Recovery process has ground to a halt in parts of north and east"


  • Reported Defence Ministry letter asks journalists not to disseminate news without confirmation from Media Centre for National Security
  • Move unnecessary and tantamount to government censorship, says Free Media Movement

    COLOMBO: The United Nations Secretary-General's Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery has urged the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to "cease hostilities and return to negotiations."

    In a statement released here on Friday, Eric Schwartz said he was deeply disturbed by the report of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) that over 200 civilians were killed and thousands displaced over the past two months.

    "In parts of the north and east, the tsunami recovery process has ground to a halt, and significant investments in reconstruction, so generously supported by donors around the world, are now imperilled. More importantly, many thousands of civilians are at grave risk, cut off from regular supplies of food and other assistance. It is critical that all parties to the conflict ease current restrictions on access to affected populations, cease hostilities and return to negotiations."

    The statement came amid stepped up efforts by Norway, the official facilitator of the peace talks, to persuade the Tamil Tigers to respond to the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government's concerns on resumption of talks without credible guarantees of the LTTE's sincerity.

    Submission of news

    In another development, media organisations in Sri Lanka have taken exception to a reported letter by the Defence Ministry asking journalists not to disseminate news without clarification and confirmation from the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS).

    In a statement here, the Free Media Movement (FMM) claimed that in a letter (dated 20.09.2006) sent to media institutions, the Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law and Order, indirectly requested that all news related to national security be submitted to the Media Centre for National Security before publication, telecast or broadcast.

    The FMM quoted the Ministry in its letter as saying: "The Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law and Order established the Media Centre for National Security to ensure that all National security and defence related news is disseminated to local and international media promptly and accurately without censoring ... Please be advised that any news gathered by your institution through your own sources with regard to national security and defence should be subjected to clarification and confirmation from the MCNS in order to ensure that correct information is published, telecast or broadcast."

    The FMM said the request came after sections of the security forces were accused of having played a role in the massacre of 10 civilians (Pottuvil killings) on September 17.

    It was also pointed out that 14 civilians were shot and injured by security forces on September 20 in the same area.

    "In a situation of heightened violent conflict, killings and disappearances on a daily basis, and where parties to the violence and conflict are accused of the gross misuse of power and acts of violence against civilians, the request that every news item must be clarified from the MCNS is impractical, unnecessary and tantamount to government censorship," the FMM said.

    Untenable claim

    Further, it said the Defence Ministry's implied claim that only the MCNS would have accurate and impartial news of atrocities and violence, was untenable in conflict situations.

    "The term `national security and defence' is broad and vague. It can be used for any news story related to the war, at the whim the MCNS and the Ministry of Defence, to censor information that flags atrocities and human rights violations of the state apparatus," the FMM said.

    Strongly disapproving of the request, the FMM hoped that the Government, the Ministry of Defence and the MCNS would reconsider their decision.

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