Mr. Iqbal Athas, stop insulting our soldiers' sacrifices
A free press or media can only flourish in a free
society. In today's world what threatens free society is terrorism,
irrespective of its root cause. Whether it stems from communalism or
religious extremism, terrorism is indeed a threat to a free society and
therefore to the freedom of the media. Unfortunately, in our country
there are some self-appointed free media champions who do not seem to
understand this. Perchance, they do not want to, because promoting
terrorism may have become a lucrative business for them.
Mr. Iqbal Athas seems to be one such journalist who
has been pandering to serve the needs of a ruthless terrorist
outfit which is built on extreme communalism. Being a senior journalist
and person who has earned lot of money and gained a reputation by
writing defence columns to local and international print media, Mr.
Athas' recent work raises doubts whether he has been assisting in the
psychological operations of the LTTE terrorists. In his most recent
article in The Sunday Times this week, which was headlined "Heavy
casualties as battles in north intensify", Mr. Athas has clearly
attempted to hoodwink his readers on the actual defence situation in the
north by shrewdly manipulating facts.
It is our duty to inform our viewers on the actual
defence situation in the north, while asking them to question the possible motives behind Mr. Athas' abominable attempt to desecrate the
sacrifices of our soldiers.
Professional journalists always act with great
restraint when reporting, describing and headlining news of incidents
involving loss of life and violence in strictly objective terms and they
rarely give such news a heavy display. Further, when reporting
casualties responsible journalists never depend on hearsay but always
indicate the sources from where they had obtained the figures.
Nevertheless, Mr. Athas whose article refers in its
headline to "heavy casualties" to security forces, fails to give any
relevant figure other than to mention some telephone conversation with
some "senior officer". He also seeks to justify his claim by trying to
create a gloomy picture about the Vavuniya town with ambulances full of
soldiers, the wail of sirens, helicopters etc. It is interesting to know
whether he heard those sounds through the telephone like he got his
confirmation about high casualty figures.
The lack of objectivity in his reporting shows signs
of a sinister motive that goes beyond fulfilling of peoples' right to
At the outset Mr. Athas creates a negative mindset
among readers on the defence situation in the north, even in the absence
of substantial facts. Thereafter, he goes on describing about a fresh
"major thrust" by the security forces which appears to be based on
his own imagination.
He says the security forces have launched a "major
thrust" in the Giant's Tank area in order to secure the Gulf of Mannar,
and that the security forces have not given a name to the operation in
order to avoid adverse comments by the SLMM. Also, he says that the main
motive of the operation is to stop Tamil civilians fleeing to India
Mr. Iqbal's interpretation shows that he desires
nothing other than putting international pressure on the government
to stop any offensive on the terrorist outfit which maintains a
mono-ethnic hell hole in the Wanni. In order to achieve his sinister
motive he uses his imagination to draw the sinister conclusion that our
soldiers' main motive is to stop their Tamil brethren seeking refuge.
Thus, if Mr. Athas is correct, Tamil civilians in the Wanni live great
lives, happily give their children to the LTTE's baby brigade, want to
see their daughters becoming suicide bombers; but unfortunately they
want to sail to India only because the security forces are marching in. So,
save the terrorists, is what Mr. Iqbal tries to allude in his article.
Not forgetting his usual role of a panegyrist for
LTTE, which he has been so passionately playing for years; he says that
LTTE has an "efficient tax collection machinery, administrative
structure, police, a judiciary system, prisons" and what's more, to Mr.
Athas it's a "state awaiting'.
Whilst talking about the north, Mr. Athas then goes on
belittling the security forces' liberation of the East. According
to Mr. Athas, the "LTTE had not dominated the territory or had no
consolidated positions" in the Eastern Province. Therefore, like some loony political leaders in the South who said Thoppigala was
"just a big jungle"; Mr. Iqbal Athas seems to believe that Sampur,
Verugal, Vakarai, Mavil Aru and Thoppigala were just barren land which
the LTTE had happily gifted to our soldiers.
Thereafter, bragging on his connections in the state
intelligence services he seems to enjoy some eccentric pleasure at being
able to unveil some "state secret" to the public. He says that small
groups of LTTEers have penetrated the Jaffna peninsula and the east so
that whatever achieved by the security forces in those areas are of no
use. Defence.lk wishes to remind its viewers that there is no secrecy
with regard to the infiltration of the terrorists to Jaffna and east as
we have reported each and every incident that had happened in those
areas. Still, the security forces have been able to protect the people
in those areas whilst government's development drive is going on.
A shared fear
Towards the end of his article, Mr. Athas voices the
greatest fear of the LTTE at present by referring to the comments made
by the President and the Defence Secretary during last two weeks. He
says that both the President and the Defence Secretary have pledged to
end terrorism whilst highlighting the LTTE's comments that the
government is trying to fool the international community. Thereby, Mr.
Athas seems to launch a subtle attack at the President's commitment to
rid the country of terrorism and says that it would "only mean" more
Mr. Iqbal Athas has the right to write whatever he
imagines and also can publish them. Yet, it is our duty to highlight the
facts that he has distorted.
First, we should highlight that there is no special
"major thrust" in the Wanni front. Both Defence.lk and the Media Centre
for National Security have reported every incident to the public, as
No legitimate military can conceal their death and
casualty figures as all such facts are properly documented and
communicated to the families of the soldiers. Above all, the military
always honours its heroic members and will never desecrate the
sacrifices made by them for the motherland. Still, it is only when we
bring about a debriefing after a military operation that we would be
able to publish the final figure of own dead, missing and casualties.
Here are the facts
Anyone going through our past reports would find there
is a significant increase of clashes at four different areas in Wanni
i.e. Thampanai, Periyathampanai, Vilathikulam, Mullikulam; and, West of
Giant's Tank in the north of Mannar. During last two weeks LTTE
terrorists had been trying to break security forces' defence line to
which the military retaliated effectively.
For the last week (from September 24 to 29) when Mr.
Athas said the military made a major thrust into Wanni, five soldiers
were killed and 32 suffered injuries due to the incidents in the above
mentioned areas. The enemy deaths and casualties obtained from ground
information and radio monitoring amounts to 47 deaths and at least 53
In the Jaffna peninsula, due to the clashes that took
place in Kilali, Muhamalai and Nagarkovil areas two soldiers were killed
and 15 suffered injuries. Radio monitoring has confirmed that 42 LTTE
terrorists were killed and at least 22 others suffered injuries in these
Further, intelligence sources have reported at least
47 LTTE cadres killed and at least 75 others injured in the air raids
conducted from September 11 to September 29. Also, sea and ground
confrontations north of Trincomalee last week killed 18 LTTE cadres and
injured at least 20 more. One sailor died in this incident.
Separately, in Ampara the Special Task Force personnel
were able to gun down 7 LTTE cadres during the period September 15 to
29. Intelligence sources have revealed that four out of seven LTTE
cadres killed by the STF were self-styled "Lieutenant Colonels" of the
LTTE. Same sources have revealed that 3 other LTTE "Lieutenant
Colonels", 4 "Majors", 6 "captains", 11 "lieutenants" and 13 "Second
Lieutenants" of LTTE were killed due to sea, air and ground battles in
The missing officer that Mr. Athas mentions actually
went missing on September 22, two days before his so called "fresh
thrust" began (September 24). For the period, September 16 to September
23, two soldiers were killed, and one officer went missing in the Wanni
front. During this period 35 LTTE cadres were killed and 18 others
By looking at the above figures one would recognize
that we had neither exaggerated enemy casualties nor concealed own
casualties in our previous reports. It should be noted that we had only
given initial reports but not written investigative or comprehensive
articles on the defence situation. It would be an insult to talented
journalists in this country if military officers had to take over such
However, having setup a mechanism to supply continuous
flow information, we would expect fellow journalists to refrain from
distorting the truth by any willful acts of commission or omission as Mr.
Iqbal Athas seems skilled at doing. One would notice that he has taken
great care in his article to not mention any death or casualties
among the terrorists.
Further, he has deliberately omitted to mention
anything about the suffering of the people living under the jackboot of
the LTTE terrorists in Wanni. The terrorist outfit which forcibly
recruits children, takes forcible labour from civilians, extort their
money, steal their food, etc is nothing more than a mere group of
"guerrillas" to him. Moreover, he shamelessly tries to convince his
readers that Tamil people are so happy to sail to India than to live in
their motherland. But, Mr. Athas may not know that a large majority of Sri
Lankan refugees in India are dreaming of returning to their homes as soon
as the government rids their areas of traditional living of terrorism.
Mr. Iqbal Athas, we consider your last week's
Situation Report as a great insult at the sacrifices made by our
soldiers. We know that as a senior journalist you must not be unaware of
the fact that factual accuracy in a single story is no substitute for
the total truth. Therefore, a single story which is factually accurate
can nonetheless be misleading in the overall context. In your article you
have used the incidents that actually happened in the north, but made an
abominable attempt to mislead the public that the security forces are
engaged in a fruitless attempt. Biased reporting may sell newspapers,
but newspapers should resist the temptation to exploit human fears for
We urge you to understand that our soldiers are
fighting with a noble vision i.e. is to free the future generations of
this country from terrorism. A person like you, who has earned a lot of
money because of war and others who hate the future generations may not
be able to share the same vision. Thus, whether you like it or not,
people in this country have the right have their country freed from
Finally, had our security forces got the correct
military and political leadership earlier, this war would have been
long finished and our country would have been a better place. Men at war
need a good purpose, right direction and motivation to make them do all
they are capable of doing at the battlefront. It is the sincere support from the general public;
their patience and acceptance that make the troops feel they are
fighting for a worthy cause. Whoever attempts to reduce public support
to the security forces or attempts to damage the loyalty of the soldiers
towards their commanders at this moment can only be considered as those
who serve the cause of the terrorists.