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Charles Haviland - BBC

I have long had a soft corner for Charles Havilland, the local BBC Correspondent. Indeed, as Marlow said of Lord Jim, have I not stood up for him, when Sri Lankans to whom one white reporter is just like another thought the BBC and Channel 4 were identical? I have argued, quite often recently, that the BBC (though not its rather strange Sinhala Service, with its conglomeration of old fashioned leftists) tries to be objective in its coverage of Sri Lanka, without succumbing to the temptation to stereotype.

I was saddened therefore to find in a report on the verdict on the Sarath Fonseka case that the BBC referred to him as Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ‘Ideological soulmate’.  This was stereotyping with a vengeance, whereas the Voice of America, which I have always thought more simplistic, actually referred to Fonseka falling out with the President over differences as to political ideology.

Anyone looking at the evidence, not least that provided by Fonseka himself, in his letter of resignation, would realize that the latter was a more plausible interpretation. Fonseka referred to the President’s rejection of his proposal to expand the army, and also criticized him for too swift resettlement of the displaced. To assume then that one Sri Lankan nationalist is identical with another seemed totally unworthy of the BBC.

US Ambassador - Patricia Butenis

I suppose it is a mark of how little interest there is really in Sri Lanka that no one has bothered to explore the implications of the differences between the two, and more particularly the divergence between what Fonseka was advocating for a few months after the war ended, and the position he took up later. Not only his interview with Federica Jansz (whether or not one believes him or her as to what he actually said with regard to the White Flag Case), but also the persona Patricia Butenis seemed optimistic about according to Wikileaks, suggests a 180 degree turn from the chauvinist rather than nationalist ideologue who fell out with the President.

More surprisingly, no one drew attention to the elephant in the room, which somehow never found its way into the Courthouse either, namely Sarath Fonseka’s claim in Ambalangoda just a couple of months after the war ended that he had resisted instructions to accept the surrender of people carrying white flags. This was to my mind the most worrying allegation that was recorded in the State Department Report that was conveyed to us around October 2009. I suggested then that we answer that report promptly, as had very politely been requested by the Americans, and I believe we would have saved ourselves a great deal of trouble had that been done. But the panel the President appointed delayed meeting, and the report was overtaken by events, not least Sarath Fonseka’s candidacy and his very different interpretation, according to Frederica, of what happened in the White Flag case. Read the rest of this entry »

The General and the Defence Secretary

A report in December 2009  in the ‘Sunday Leader’ that serious Human Rights violations were committed by the armed forces several months ago is extremely disturbing. The information is said to have been supplied by Gen Sarath Fonseka in an exclusive interview.

Such a claim by Gen Sarath Fonseka is not new. There was also a report some months back of him saying something similar, but claiming responsibility for this himself. This report was a significant component of the American State Department report on possible war crimes. That said he made a speech at his old school, in which he had appeared in triumphalist mode. He was reported to have claimed that he ‘managed the war like a true soldier’ and resisted pressures from others, and thus ‘We destroyed any one connected with the LTTE’.

That story raised questions which the government has pledged itself to answer through the committee appointed to report on allegations contained in the State Department report. In fairness to the State Department, it did not assert that Gen Fonseka had thus incriminated himself, but rather referred to reports which required explication. The government then is duty bound to question Gen Fonseka with regard to the report. The current interview makes it even more essential that the matter be inquired into.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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