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>> Arson attack on Leader press roundly condemned <<

   Fall out of Eelam War IV

The aftermath of the bomb in Nugegoda

While the government and the LTTE are engaged in sabre rattling, it is the civilians who have to pay the ultimate price - be it for a united country or a separate homeland. In response to a speech made by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse pledging to target LTTE Leader Velupillai Pirapaharan, the latter in his "Heroes Day" speech vowed to fight back. Hours later two bombs caused chaos and mayhem in the city.

The government and the LTTE waging war has now resulted in innocent civilians being caught in the cross fire.

Last week's bomb attack by the LTTE in Nugegoda left many civilians dead and a large number injured. The LTTE too accused the government of killing 13 civilians including 11 schoolgirls just 24 hours earlier in a claymore mine attack on a bus by a Deep Penetration Unit. This claim by the LTTE also saw the government closing all schools in the Western Province fearing a retaliatory attack.

 For the people at large, the intensified warfare could not have come at a worse time with the festive season just around the corner not to mention the tourist season. Already burdened with a crippling cost of living, the increased security threat has made Sri Lanka just about hell on earth for its citizens.

 The police and army have meanwhile commenced many search operations in the city in a bid to flush out LTTE cadres in a bid to avert further attacks.  

By Risidra Mendis, Nirmala Kannangara, Kshanika Argent and Warren Balthazaar

Despite schools being ordered to close down last week due to security concerns, the education system will not be affected in Sri Lanka due to the bomb attacks on civilians in Colombo, the Ministry of Education (MoE) said.

The MoE said that schools were closed in the Western Province for two days after two explosions took place last week as a precautionary measure.

Eight students including education officials were directly affected in the Nugegoda explosion on Wednesday (28).

Speaking to The Sunday Leader Education Minister, Susil Premajayanth said schools were closed on Thursday (29) and Friday (30) in the Nugegoda area only because the explosion affected people and school children attending schools in the area.

He said that the schools were not closed due to threats by the LTTE.

Premajayanth said that it was an obvious decision to close schools in Nugegoda until the situation in the area was under control.

However, he later said that the Education Ministry decided to close government schools and semi government schools in the Western Province due to the volatile security situation and concerns after the two attacks in Colombo.

Premajayanth noted that the ongoing term end exams were postponed and the new dates would be sent to schools today (2).

"Schools would reopen tomorrow and the term exams will continue until the vacation begins," Premajayanth said

He further added that the public including school children and officials were told that this attack would not affect the education system but instructed them to be extra vigilant.

Premajayanth also added that the up coming Ordinary Level (OL) Examinations will be held on schedule and would not be postponed at any cost.


Gloomy festive season predicted

The festive season doesn't look to be that merry this year judging by last week's attacks which have for the most part struck fear into the hearts of many in being out and about in the city.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader shop owners in Pettah, the hub of commercial activity the year round, said they have braced themselves for what they expect to be a turbulent season.

Shop owners stated that business in Pettah has gone down 50 to 70% in the last few days. One shop owner who sells giftware items stated, "Today (30) business has picked up a little bit but is still not back to normal. This is how it usually is when a bomb goes off. People stay at home." 

Many other shop owners made the same remarks saying that if there were to be more bombs in the city, business will be bleak during December.


Tourism takes another beating

Despite strong promotional campaigns and other marketing efforts to promote tourism that was once the fourth largest foreign exchange earner, last week's suicide bomb attacks have brought mixed reactions from stakeholders in the leisure industry.

Although the tourism generating markets were being considerate in not updating their travel advisories, tour agents and operators overseas were busy inquiring about the ground situation in the country according to leading tour operators.

With the successful completion of the World Tourism Mart (WTM) in London, Sri Lanka tourism received a positive response. However with the latest situation in the country hoteliers and tour operators now fear the worst as to what would happen to the long awaited winter season, if the present situation persists.    

Due to the current English cricket tour, most of the hotels in Colombo, Kandy and Galle are fully booked. But hoteliers now fear they would get cancellations with the present situation.

However officials from leading tourist resorts out of Colombo who are suffering immensely since 2006 told The Sunday Leader that if bomb attacks continue on a regular basis in the capital city, they would have to close down their hotels temporarily. "At present we have a low occupancy and have been compelled to slash room rates and also curtail services resulting in many suppliers losing their regular income," they said.

Meanwhile, Tourist Hotel Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) President, Managing Director, Jetwing Hotels, Hiran Cooray told The Sunday Leader that the industry was thankful to the foreign missions in Colombo for not considering the latest situation as alarming to update their travel advisories. "The tourism industry is grateful to the foreign missions in Colombo for not projecting the present situation as bad as the previous occasions," Cooray said.

However Cooray said that if the present spate of incidents continues then the repercussions would be much more hazardous.

"If the present situation persists this would badly affect the tourism industry. These incidents have not yet gone on foreign headlines. With the current Sri Lanka - England cricket matches I am optimistic that nothing would harm our industry for the time being," added Cooray.

Meanwhile, Amaya Resorts and Spas, Director, Sales and Marketing,  Denesh Silva said that it's too early to comment on the consequences to the industry following last Wednesday's two bomb explosions that killed more than 20 innocent civilians.

"It's still premature to talk about the adverse effects but we can survive for sure as we have gone through worse situations earlier. We should be positive of a good winter season despite certain setbacks as Sri Lanka is not the only country that has internal conflicts."

According to Silva there have been no cancellation of bookings nor inquiries about the present situation from their foreign tour operators.

Meanwhile THASL Vice President and Director/CEO, Serendib Leisure Management, Srilal Miththapala told The Sunday Leader that the present situation was causing concern. "We need not panic, and have to be optimistic, but with innocent civilians targeted the whole perception has now changed," said Miththapala.

"Although the just concluded WTM in London was a success and the Sri Lankan stall received a very good response from the tour operators and tour agents, last week's attacks are of concern to the industry," added Miththapala.

He however further stated that not a single inquiry has been received from their foreign counterparts following last week's two attacks.

However according to Manager, Tangerine Tours, Charith de Alwis, the UK, Australia and certain other tourism generating markets that are very sensitive would update their travel advisories if the present situation continues.

"Unlike Russia which is not a sensitive market almost all the other countries are really worried about their citizens visiting unsafe tourist destinations. Since this could be considered as a somewhat risky situation the BBC and even CNN usually give a clear picture as to what is happening in the country. With the immediate closure of schools in the Western Province we sent a bad message to the outside world that the situation is not so good at present," added de Alwis.

Meanwhile Director, George Steuart Travels International, Lucky Fernando is of the view that last week's incidents would not affect the industry if it does not continue. "Even the Sri Lanka Tourist Board, soon after the first suicide attack said that this would not hamper the industry. We are getting a very good crowd in view of the English cricket tour and hopefully there won't be any more attacks. If it does continue it would definitely affect the industry very badly," Fernando noted.


The gory events so far

Chronology of attacks on civilians and political figures;

 May 1985  - 120 Buddhist devotees were killed in Anuradhapura and 85 civilians were brutally assaulted by LTTE cadres.

 May 1987 - 122 civilians travelling through the Kithulotuwa highway in Trincomalee                    were killed and 44 injured when a group of LTTE cadres detonated a bomb in a bus

 August 1990 - 103 Muslim pilgrims were killed and 70 injured when the LTTE blew up a Mosque in Kattankudi, Batticaloa

 March 1991 - Minister of Defence, Ranjan Wijeratne was assassinated, 19 civilians killed and 70 injured in an explosion detonated by the LTTE on Havelock Road, Colombo 5.

June 1991 -  12 killed and 85 civilians injured after a suicide bombing at the Joint Operations Command (JOC) building on Flower Road, Colombo 7.

May 1993 - President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated, 13 civilians killed and 23 injured in a suicide attack by a LTTE cadre on Armour Street, Colombo 12.

October 1995 - Presidential Candidate Gamini Dissanayake assassinated, 54 civilians killed and 72 injured in a suicide attack by a LTTE cadre in Colombo

August 1995 - 23 killed and 72 civilians injured in a LTTE suicide attack at Independence Square, Colombo 7.

October 1995 - 27 civilians killed in a LTTE suicide attack on the Kolonnawa Oil Refinery

November 1995 - 11 killed and 52 civilians injured when a female suicide bomber infiltrated the Army Headquarters in Colombo

January 1996  - 86 killed and 1200 civilians injured after the suicide bombing of the Central Bank in Colombo

July 1996 -          Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva injured, 50 civilians killed after an unsuccessful assassination attempt on the Minister in Jaffna

March 1998 -       26 civilians killed and 270 seriously injured in a suicide bombing on board a train in Dehiwala

December 1999  - An unsuccessful suicide attempt on President Chandrika Kumaratunga left 16 civilians dead and 106 injured during an election rally in the Town Hall area

December 1999 - 12 civilians killed and 45 injured during a UNP rally after a suicide bombing in Ja-ela

March 2000 -  An unsuccessful assassination attempt on Cabinet Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte left 15 civilians killed and 76 injured in Rajagiriya

No major attacks on civilians were identified after the attack in Rajagiriya, thus leading to the Ceasefire Agreement which was signed in February 2002.

However, in 2006 the attacks on civilians resumed.

June 2006 - 64 civilians killed and 39 injured in an explosion detonated by the LTTE in Kebethigollewa 

May 2006 - 12 irrigation officers killed and 2 injured in an explosion detonated by the LTTE in Welikanda

January 2007 - 6 civilians killed and 63 injured in a claymore mine explosion planted on a bus traveling through Nittambuwa

January 2007 - 15 civilians killed and 40 injured in a LTTE explosion on a bus travelling through Seenigama

April 2007        - 7 civilians killed and 37 injured in a claymore mine explosion on a bus travelling through Chettikulam

May 2007       -  A claymore mine explosion left 8 civilians killed and 36 injured, among them, STF officers who were travelling in a STF vehicle in Ratmalana

November 2007 - 4 civilians killed in an explosion in Valachchenai


Forces on high alert

The two bomb attacks by the LTTE in Nugegoda and Narahenpita last week have resulted in the police and army increasing security in the city.

The Sunday Leader learns that the police is working closely with the army in conducting search operations and creating awareness among the public on how to deal with a bomb scare or a parcel left in a public place.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader Police Spokesperson, DIG Jayantha Wickramaratne said police teams are investigating complaints made by the public as to why the Mirihana Police did not respond to calls made by the public. He also referred to the police officer who was killed in the blast. 

The DIG told The Sunday Leader that police officers are given training on how to handle a suspected bomb scare when they join the police force. "We conduct regular training for police officers but there are some rare incidents where some police officers do not follow the training provided to them," he explained.

According to the DIG the police have to depend on the public for information when an unidentified parcel is left in a public place. We have to act immediately on information received from the public in such cases. The police have also instructed the public to be extra vigilant these days especially when travelling in public transport. People should avoid gathering in places where there are large crowds as a precautionary measure," DIG Wickramaratne said.

The DIG added that the LTTE uses various methods when planting bombs. "A good example is the two explosions on November 28 by suspected LTTE cadres. The first bomb was on a suicide bomber who blew herself up at the Social Services and Welfare Ministry in Narahenpita while the second bomb was wrapped in a parcel and left at the parcel counter at a shop in Nugegoda. We cannot say what methods the LTTE will use when they plant the next bomb. The public therefore needs to be alert and contact the nearest police station if they see any suspicious looking parcels or objects," DIG Wickramaratne explained.

Civil Defence Force, Neighbourhood Watch Committees, Crime Prevention Societies, Security Eye and various traders associations among others are assisting the forces by guiding the public on how to handle emergency situations.


Stock market surviving

As for the stock market, sources say that both local and foreign investors have continued to pump money into the country despite the attacks, in what industry sources say are 'calculated risks.'

Stock market sources said that as of the first half of trading on Friday (30) the index was up by 10 points. They added that while the recent violence has shocked those in the business community, it hasn't affected the stock market adversely.

Arson attack on Leader press roundly condemned

Army personnel looking intently at the damaged
premises of the Leader press after the early morning attack on November 21

Many organisations both international and local, political parties and individuals concerned over the serious affront to media freedom as a result of the arson attack on the Leader Publications press have roundly condemned the attack. Below are excerpts of some of the statements:

An attempt to stifle media  - Bishop Duleep Chickera

"The well planned and executed arson attack on The Sunday Leader press came as a shock to the nation. This must be seen as yet another calculated attempt in a trend to stifle the free media of this country. The act, and the hidden forces behind it must be vehemently condemned by all peace loving and democratic-minded citizens of Sri Lanka.

The continuing trend to silence the independent media has already reached dangerous proportions. A media that can freely voice dissent, advocate the freedom of expression and the right to information and engage in a discourse of critique, is indispensable for the well being of a democratic and civilised nation at all times; it is absolutely crucial in times of violence, war, social suspicion and instability.

The people of our country must take serious note that if brazen criminal acts of this nature are allowed to take place with impunity then we have no one else to blame but ourselves for the growing chaos and destruction. I call upon all religious bodies and all Sri Lankans to condemn this act and call for a free investigation and indictment of the perpetrators.

We would do well to remember that a free media is an indispensable service to us and to the integrity and dignity of the nation. The least we can do when such persons come under attack is to express our strong disapproval and ensure the media of our solidarity. To the extent that we remain silent, this trend of impunity and violent intolerance will be interpreted as complacency, and will soon engulf us all.

Given the location of the press and the circumstances of the attack, there is little doubt that the police should be able to track down the perpetrators without delay. The President's personal initiative for a prompt investigation as well the availability of competent police officers enhanced by the prevailing climate of sophisticated intelligence and tight security must lead to successful police investigations.

On the other hand, the inability to identify the perpetrators inspite of all these advantages will clearly signal to the whole country, the involvement of a more powerful force and even suggest connivance in the attack."

Reflection of prevalent jungle law
 - Civil Monitoring Commission Convener, Mano Ganesan

THE cowardly destruction of the Leader Publications printing press is nothing but a reflection of the prevalent jungle law in the country, says WPF Leader and CMC Convener, Mano Ganesan MP in a statement issued by the Civil Monitoring Commission. The statement further states.

"It is no secret that all Leader publications were critical of the government. It naturally published the other side of the story, produced and published by the state media. This country needs counter print and electronic media. It is a necessary integral part of performing free media in Sri Lanka. The government of the day on the one hand is responsible for law and order. The state law enforcement agencies have miserably failed to provide protection to this institution which had come under attack on earlier occasions too. On the other hand government politicians cannot play innocent and walk away from the natural accusation in this dastardly act."


Security forces accused of complicity

Reporters Without Borders has condemned the arson attack on Leader Publications, which is located in a high security area outside Colombo. About 15 gunmen that staged the attack must have had support within the security forces, the press freedom organisation said.

"Armed men have once again attacked an independent news media in a high security area of the capital," Reporters Without Borders said. "It unfortunately shows that the press freedom enemies have accomplices within the security forces. By attacking the Leader Publications group, this gang wanted to silence one of the main sources of incisive criticism of the current government. We urge foreign diplomats to publicly express their solidarity with the group.

Leader Publications printing press is located at Ratmalana, a high-security zone adjoining a military airport outside the capital. A gang stormed the premises early in the morning, rounded up all of the 25 employees, and at gunpoint, forced them to hand over their mobile phones. Then they doused the press with petrol and set it on fire. They also set fire to the thousands of copies of the day's issue of The Morning Leader, which was about to be distributed. Firemen took an hour to put out the blaze.

A Sunday Leader journalist told Reporters Without Borders that the press would be out of commission for several months. The group would have to use the services of a commercial printer in order to continue publishing, he said. The damage will also affect the Tamil daily Sudar Oli, which was printed on Leader Publications press.

The Sunday Leader Editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge described the attacked as a commando operation carried out on the government's orders. Known for his investigations and critical editorials, Wickrematunge has been accused by ruling party parliamentarians of supporting the Tamil Tiger rebels. The government had planned to arrest him in late 2006 for revealing the construction of a luxurious presidential bunker in Colombo, but backed down for fear of triggering strong international criticism. An armed group already set fire to newspapers at the Leader Publications printing press in October 2005."


The Editor's Guild condemns attack

"The fact that the publications of the newspaper house viz., Irudina, The Sunday Leader and The Morning Leader have been severe critics of the incumbent government places a heavy burden on the administration to have ensured its safety. The natural inference that could be drawn from this attack is to the detriment of the government, which is already under the microscope locally and internationally for the abuse of human rights, individual liberties, democratic rights and media freedom.

While appreciating the difficulties faced by the government in combating terrorism, the Guild is firmly of the view that when democratic freedoms of the citizens, cherished for so long are trampled by the jackboots of anarchical forces in the manner it was done in this instance, it will negate the very purpose for which terrorism is being squashed, i.e. to permit democracy to flourish.

Investigations into countless incidents of a similar nature, throughout the country in recent times, including the murder of journalists, have not yielded results, with the government being unable or unwilling to bring the culprits to book.

The Guild believes that this brazen attack will add to Sri Lanka's plunging record on media freedom should the government decide to treat the incident as just another statistic."


IFJ dismayed at attack

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is dismayed at reports that an unidentified gang set fire to the Leader Publications printing house that publishes The Sunday Leader, the mid-weekly The Morning Leader and Sinhala weekly Irudina in Ratmalana.

The Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate said the recent critical position and civil defamation case taken by The Morning Leader editor against the Asia Tribune website is the likely motive for the attack. The fire completely destroyed the printing press. The damage is estimated at millions of rupees. In a similar attack in 2005, The Sunday Leader printing press was set on fire in the run up to the presidential election.

"This vicious attack underscores the dangers faced by the media in Sri Lanka," said IFJ Asia-Pacific Director, Jacqueline Park. "The authorities must take immediate action to locate and punish the attackers. Journalism cannot flourish as long as this level of violence is tolerated."

"The Sri Lankan government must put a stop to this culture of impunity that is paralysing media freedom in all regions of the country," she said.


CPJ appalled

The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the arson attack on a publishing house in Sri Lanka that destroyed the printing press of three newspapers critical of the government.

The English-language The Morning Leader and The Sunday Leader, and the Sinhala-language weekly Irudina are known for their critical stances towards Sri Lankan authorities. Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of The Sunday Leader, told journalists he believed the government was behind the attack, according to news reports.

"We are appalled by this act of violence against three independent Sri Lankan publications," CPJ Executive Director, Joel Simon said. "It's time official inquiries into press attacks in Sri Lanka yielded some results, to counteract the message that critical newspapers can be threatened with impunity."

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse ordered an inquiry into the attack, but results of similar inquiries launched in the past two years have yet to be made public.

An arson attempt against the same publishing house was prevented in 2005.


IPI strongly condemns

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in over 120 countries, strongly condemns the armed raid on Leader Publications printing press and the arson attack on it.

"The attacks are surprising, as Leader Publications premises are part of an office complex located in a high security zone, given its proximity to the Colombo airport. It should be noted that all Leader publications are critical of the government and exponents of opposition political views. Editors of their newspapers have suffered harassment and threats over the last two years, and this is the second time in just over two years that the printing press belonging to the same publishing house has been subject to an arson attack, the last attack coming in October 2005.

"This latest attack on Leader Publications bears all the hallmarks of a highly organised attempt by groups who may be close to the government to silence any critical reporting," said IPI Director, Johann P. Fritz. "Sri Lanka is a country with a deteriorating press freedom record. We urge the relevant authorities to do all in their power to apprehend the perpetrators, bring them to justice, and to work towards establishing a media environment in Sri Lanka where such attacks no longer occur," he added.


Free media essential for democracy

The attack on The Sunday Leader printing press by a group of unknown assailants is an appalling incident. The group, armed with guns and clubs, forced staff members onto the ground and set fire to the printing machinery by throwing a petrol bomb. The National Peace Council deplores the increasing frequency with which newspaper staff are being targeted in this kind of violent attack.

During the past two years, 12 media personnel have been killed, with the Uthayan newspaper paying the highest price in terms of human life: five members of its staff have lost their lives in the service of journalism and the freedom of expression. The Sunday Leader newspaper has made a name for itself as an outspoken critic of the present government and as an advocate of a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict.

Threats of aggression and death issued to journalists who publish fact-based information judged by some to be injurious to political parties or powerful business interests symbolise a canker in the body politic. The National Peace Council affirms that the government has the responsibility to provide protection for all citizens who wish to pursue their constitutional right to freedom of expression and publication.

It is the right of all Sri Lankans, journalist or ordinary citizen, to exercise freedom of thought and expression. This right is guaranteed by Article 14 of the Sri Lankan Constitution, which states that, 'Every citizen is entitled to [.] the freedom of speech and expression including publication.'

The National Peace Council expresses solidarity with those Sri Lankan journalists who are courageously committed to revealing realities from the ground and for risking their lives in the service of truth. We salute their determination to deliver accurate reporting and the willingness of media personnel to continue their work in the face of such fatal risks.

We call on the government to investigate these latest incidents and take legal action against the culprits. In addition we call on the government to put in place protection mechanisms that would ensure the safety of journalists in Sri Lanka and the right of Sri Lankan citizens to access a diverse media that provides free and accurate reporting on national affairs.

- Executive Director

on behalf of the Governing Council

National Peace Council

Arson attack a dangerous threat

to democracy

During the term of the present government several instances of killings, abductions and harassment of media persons have been widely reported. No criminal responsible for those acts have so far been prosecuted nor the circumstances of the same discovered by the police. The public therefore perceive that sections of the government machinery are involved.

The armed attack on Leader Publications was the worst of its kind in recent times. It is alarming that an armed gang in a security zone had carried out this crime in the relatively silent early hours of November 21.

The criminal gang had successfully fled the scene of the crime thereafter notwithstanding the high security in the area and in-spite of the loud noise caused by a petrol bomb at the scene. This alone demonstrates the weakness of the security, or non enforcement of law and order on the part of the government. A similar incident reported during the times proximate to the period of terror in 1988 was when the Yukthiya press was attacked and set on fire. It was during the regime of  the UNP, and the criminals were undetected then as well.

Therefore when the media is attacked and arson is resorted to, a suspicion of signs of a period of terror is inevitable. Therefore the government should rapidly conduct inquiries and prosecute the criminals to arrest this dangerous trend.

It was when Chandrika Kumaratunga was in office that Mahinda Rajapakse set up a fund to compensate journalists and media persons who were attacked by the police at Kollupitiya. Therefore it is expected that the President would compensate the Leader/Irudina papers whether they are covered by insurance or not.  We call upon all those who are committed to democracy to come forward and condemn the arson attack at Leader/Irudina press and call for payment of adequate compensation for the same by the state.

Vasudeva Nanayakkara

General Secretary

Democratic Left Front


Most brazen attack - Newspaper Society

The Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka condemned the 'savage attack' on the building which houses the printing press of Leader Publications in Ratmalana.

A statement of the Newspaper Society said: "A 15 member armed and masked unit entered the Leader premises at Katukurunduwatte, Ratmalana in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The employees present at the premises were made to kneel down at gun point and the invaders systematically destroyed and set fire to the press.

"It is incomprehensible how at a time of high security and regular checks, an armed gang should have perpetrated such a depredation and we have a right to demand the Inspector General of Police and the Commanders of the Security  Forces in charge of the Ratmalana area, what price is law and order?

"This has been the most brazen attack on a media house in recent times. It is equally an attack on the people's right to information and dissent.

"We see this not as an isolated attack on a newspaper publisher. Sri Lanka's record on media freedom has not been bright. The Leader newspapers have been a severe critic of the government which is all the more reason why the government must bring the culprits to book. Sri Lanka must not be perceived as a country where a person can be physically violated for his views and beliefs.

"It is a most dangerous trend that this government must immediately arrest if its citizens are to live as free men and women in a democratic society."


PJASL condemns attack

The Parliamentary Journalists' Association of Sri Lanka (PJASL) condemned the arson attack on the printing press of Leader Publications and called on the government to hold an impartial inquiry, with a view to bringing to book the culprits, irrespective of their office or position.

"Security of journalists and media institutions is imperative for safeguarding the sovereignty of the people and democracy. All those who uphold democracy must remember that journalists and media institutions represent the right of the people to access information," Association President, Daya Perera told the media.

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