On My Watch
BY Lucian RAJAKARUNANAYAKE
War crimes and child victims
It was left to V. Anandasangaree, the TULF leader, who knows his
North much better than any of the foreign or local commentators on
recent developments there, to expose the LTTE’s false claim about a
claymore mine attack last Tuesday by the Security Forces within LTTE
controlled territory where the LTTE said, through TamilNet and its other
propaganda arms, that at least 11 of those killed there were
schoolchildren whose bus hit a mine laid by the military.
The media gave short shrift to the military’s denial of such an
attack and that they did not operate so deep in LTTE controlled area.
The report of this attack came very handy, especially to
anchorpersons and reporters of the international news channels to show a
comparison, and thereby some justification, of the LTTE’s typically
savage bomb blast that has by now killed at least 20 and injured more
than 40, including many children, at a clothing shop near the busy and
crowded Nugegoda junction, the next day.
The juxtaposition of the two events, the claymore attack in the North
that allegedly killed 11 children and the Nugegoda blast where several
children were killed and severely injured, came handy to show some
justification for the LTTE’s action.
It is useful to quote what Anandasangaree had to say of the reported
“The reported news item that 11 persons including nine students had
been killed in a claymore mine attack by the Forces that penetrated
deeply into the LTTE held area is a real fabrication.
Reading this in the Tamil newspaper this morning I felt that this
news is a prelude to some serious incident to take place in the course
of the day and as expected this tragic incident had taken place at
“The claymore mine incident took place in a village which is so close
to the Kilinochchi town that the Forces can’t even dream of reaching
that village and if what the paper had said is true, the end of the LTTE
“Those who were instrumental for this news to appear in the papers
had a clear motive for doing so. It is obviously to show the
International Community that the 2nd incident is retaliatory to the
first incident and also to justify it.”
This comes from a person who is very knowledgeable about the LTTE,
the Tiger mentality and its tactics. It confirms the position of the
military that it had no connection with the reported claymore attack in
the North last Tuesday.
But significantly, the media, especially the foreign media that has
so many resources to get at the facts when they need it, was quite happy
to keep on repeating this propaganda of the LTTE, with the least
interest in verifying its authenticity.
Interestingly, although the news channels, such as the BBC had
sufficient time to know the number of children killed or injured at
Nugegoda by the time they filed their reports for broadcast and for
their web sites (for in depth reporting of events, as we are often
told), that piece of important information was not included in their
Reporters and editors who are supposed to give good coverage of
important breaking news, and later fill in the details of such news, did
not think it necessary to highlight the number of child victims of the
Nugegoda blast, which could have been obtained very easily if they cared
to, but were happy to repeat the LTTE’s claims about the number of child
victims of the previous day’s reported claymore attack in the north.
Just look at how the BBC web site reported this on Wednesday night -
“Deadly bomb attacks in Sri Lanka
At least 16 people have been killed in a bomb explosion in Sri
Lanka’s capital, Colombo, the military says.
At least 37 were also injured in the blast, which hit the city’s busy
The bomb went off outside a clothing shop, after a guard reportedly
tried to open a suspicious parcel.
The blast came just hours after a suicide bomber killed one person
and hurt two in Colombo. Officials blamed the two attacks on Tamil Tiger
They took place a day after Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran
described hopes for peace as naive, after increased fighting in the
The Tigers say that more than 20 civilians, most of them children,
were killed in two attacks by the military in the North on Tuesday.”
This was what the BBC web site said close to midnight of Wednesday,
more than five hours after the Nugegoda blast, when there was enough
time to get a proper figure of victims and their breakdown by age and
Further down the same news item on the BBC web said:
“The Tamil Tigers said that at least 11 of those killed in the North
on Tuesday were schoolchildren whose bus hit a mine laid by the
military. The Army denied responsibility.”
Interestingly, the same BBC web report, also had a prominent sub-head
in the middle of its peace that read “Genocide” within quotes,
indicating a comment by someone, on the incidents it reported. But
nowhere else in the body of this story was any reference made to
genocide, either directly or indirectly.
The possibility is that “genocide” in Sri Lanka is either an
obsession of the BBC reporter or editor who handled that story, or that
one or both of them were willing retailers of the LTTE’s oft-repeated
allegations of genocide being carried out by the Sri Lanka government.
It was an interesting time to slip in that allegation.
The BBC World news report of the two bombings in Colombo last
Wednesday telecast at 11.30 pm that night, ended with a somewhat ominous
comment by the narrator about the attacks on civilian targets, with a
pay-off line as it were, to the effect that the situation was
deteriorating in Sri Lanka, as shown by these attacks, because the
Tigers had rarely attacked purely civilian targets in the past.
All that an editor of a news item needs is some quick reference in
the very exhaustive library of the BBC to come up with enough examples
of the LTTE’s attacks on purely civilian targets from the time it began
its terror operations with the killing of the Mayor of Jaffna, Alfred
Duraiyappah way back in the early 1980s. One is reminded that though
even journalist horses can be taken to the water, it is not possible to
make them drink.
Reporters without Borders
One is more than intrigued by the statement issued by Reporters sans
Frontiers (RsF) better known here as Reporters without Borders, the
Paris-based organization that issued a statement to the effect that the
attack by the security forces on the Voice of Tigers (VoT) radio station
last Tuesday, was a “war crime”.
This is an observation later repeated by other foreign and Sri Lankan
organisations too, that lay claim, often justifiably to being media
Obviously, RsF and the other organisations that repeat this charge,
seem to be under a grave misconception that the rules of compliance,
whether in the Geneva Conventions or any other related Protocols that
deal with enemy combat between sovereign States, in what is known as
war, applies to action taken by a sovereign State against a grave
internal threat which takes the form of unbridled terror against the
people and the State.
They support the right of the LTTE to engage in propaganda
broadcasting under Geneva Conventions, which itself is a question, quite
oblivious of any other use the LTTE may be making of its radio stations
or other communications facilities.
A little inquiry from the defence authorities would have told these
organisations that the VoT facility that was destroyed in the attack was
a well-known operation of the terrorist LTTE, which in addition to being
used for propaganda for the separatist aims of the LTTE, is also been
known to have been used for its clandestine armed activities, targeting
both the Sri Lankan Security Forces and vulnerable civilians.
It is an action that the Security Forces considered necessary as part
of the current operations to rid Sri Lanka of terrorism that is being
carried out by an organisation that is committed to the use of violence
and terror to further its aims, and has repeatedly shown it has no
regard for any recognised norms of behaviour in seeking to achieve its
Victims and Civilians
Much is being said that the victims of that attack, present at the
location at the time of the attack, were civilians. These organisations
do not state their source for such an assertion, except the claims of
the LTTE itself, which it appears has been operating this facility for a
considerable time as a radio station for separatist and terrorist
propaganda (that these organisations are in favour of leaving untouched)
as well as clandestine military operations.
RsF and the other organisations referring to international
instruments state that deliberate attacks against journalists and
infrastructure belonging to or used by the press constitute a serious
violation of international law and that journalists have the right to
perform their role in territories where fighting is taking place.
Surely, this refers to the role of journalists covering a conflict
and certainly cannot refer to or mean those persons, whether journalists
or otherwise, who participate in such conflicts, and others who claim to
be journalists who do so.
It is no easy task to identify who is a journalist and who is not,
when a person functions in a place that is known to be used for
terrorist purposes, and regrettably though, even “journalists” who
decide to participate in the military-cum-propaganda related activities
of an organisation of terror will have to pay the price of such
RsF in its statement even charges that the VoT staff (or is it
cadres?) had not been given warnings of the attack by the Air Force. It
is ridiculous for any military institution to give warning to those who
it has identified as enemy terrorists, of an impending attack on a
facility which they use for the purposes of terrorism.
For the record, there were some who said that the former leader of
the LTTE Political Wing SP Thamilchelvan, was also a civilian who was
killed in an attack on another communications related location of the
LTTE. This was given the lie when he was posthumously given the rank of
“Brigadier” which is said to be the highest rank in LTTE’s fighting arm.
Such belief in persons engaged in the activities of terror being
civilians, except when they are caught, injured or killed while
committing an act of terror, would make the woman suicide killer,
reportedly a polio victim too, who failed in the attempt to assassinate
the Minister of Social Services and Social Welfare Douglas Devananda
earlier this week; and, the other woman who was killed in the failed
attempt to assassinate the Army Commander in April last year, none other
than innocent civilians, until they detonated the lethal bombs strapped
to their bodies. The same goes for the killers of Rajiv Gandhi, too.
These organisations may have their own interests when they issue such
statements, rushing to condemn the actions of the Sri Lankan Security
Forces or the Government, with hardly any research being done to justify
what they say.
Such knee-jerk reactions, which help the propaganda goals of the LTTE,
whether intended or not, only lead to serious doubts as to the
genuineness of these organisations when they make statements on other
issues that may require more serious consideration.