| by Pearl Thevanayagam
(July 14, 2013, London – Sri Lanka Guardian) Today will mark the 18th anniversary of my arrest for venturing into LTTE area. This was July 14, 1995 when the government soldiers under President Kumaratunga led by Defence Minister and the President’s uncle Anuruddha Ratwatte would send Jaffna Tamils marching single file all the way from town and villages of Jaffna to reach Vavuniya through Kilaly Lagoon, a much precarious waterway.
The air-force had bombed a church in Navaly a few weeks previously where civilians were asked to take refuge during an air raid to annihilate LTTE. Some 165 women, children and others were slaughtered in cold blood.
Journalists were barred into LTTE areas. I pleaded with Brigadier Sarath Munasinghe, the then military spokesman for the media, to give us permission to go to North and East. He cited our safety and refused permission.
I pretended to be an English teacher to cross Thandikulam and reach Jaffna to find out what exactly happened. Lasantha Wickrematunge, the then editor of Sunday Leader gave me carte blanche to go while I hid the fact from my colleagues and even my own mother, a widow who only had myself living with her out her seven children. They were abroad. Only Lasantha and the driver knew of my trip.
I was surrounded by some 20 or more plainclothes CID men at Vavuniya Station after spending three days in LTTE controlled area past Thandikulam on the way to Kilinochchi. I spent just 19 hours in detention at SP Nimal Leuke’s Police Station before a Reuters’ correspondent alerted Colombo to my plight.
Lakshman Kadirgamar - the then Foreign Minister - would ask the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) which issued a statement the air-force had bombed the church to retract its statement. ICRC did not comply.
The LTTE did not have air power at the time. Yet, The church’s roof was destroyed through aerial bombing. The fact that the government’s aim was ethnic cleansing dawned on me for the first time and the accomplice and traitor to Tamils was Lakshman Kadirgamar. He had predecessors in the likes of P. Ramanathan and Arunachalam.
They chose to gain senatorial posts in the Sinhala government instead of asking for a separate state. Britain gave them a choice when they seceded independence to Sri Lanka to save further bloodshed following India’s bloody riots which resulted in millions of lives lost to send the Brits packing.
The 1995 exodus was only second to the July’83one when Tamils were systematically targeted by the Premadasa Government. DIG Rudra Rajasingham, uncle of Dr Darini Rajasingham Senanayake of the Neelan Thiruchelvam clan did not resign his post when JRJ refused to declare curfew for three days when Tamil homes and businesses were burned and looted and bodies lay on the streets of Colombo on the night of July 23, 1983.
National media had a blackout and front pages were left blank. Classical Sinhala music replaced news broadcast.
Tamils have time and again let down Tamils for their own selfish interests and one need only to look at Douglas Devananda, KP, Daya Master and others in the diaspora who while whipping up nationalism and pilfering their hard earned money would go on to feather their own nests.
It is no secret Douglas had lodges in the nineties for the fleeing civilians in Colombo at Rs50.00 per mat without a pillow. A colleague of mine at Weekend Express who was a senior lecturer at Jaffna University made use of his lodges to stay and earn a living as a journalist in order to support his wife and children in Jaffna.
Douglas owned ships plying between Trincomalee and Jaffna during the exodus of the mid-nineties thanks to his camaraderie with President Kumaratunga.
But I am veering off the subject at hand which is the muzzling of the media by the Sinhala governments be they UNP or SLFP. They are the same breed in different hues.
July is a dark month for Tamils and it is bounden on the Tamil minority to commemorate it and keep the world informed of the injustices meted out to Tamils since independence.
If Sunday Times and other mainstream media want to bury the past and move on, let them think again and think what if it happened to them.
(The writer has been a journalist for 24 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)