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<% on Error Resume Next Response.Expires = 0 %> Mr. iqbal Athas, stop insulting our soldiers' sacrifices

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 information.



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  for refuge.

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 fighting.

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 they happened.

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 casualties.

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 incidents.

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 this period.

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 injured.

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 professional work.

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 commercial gain.

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 terrorists.

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.

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