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World Affairs

   

Winning the conflict and losing the propaganda war

World leaders and the international media focused attention on Sri Lanka last week but even though the military victory of the armed forces over terrorism was undeniable Sri Lanka was in the dock with the LTTE for alleged violation of human rights. Thus, even though a military victory has been achieved there was no clear-cut victory in the propaganda war which the LTTE and its fellow travellers would undoubtedly pursue in the future.

  Trapped civilians in the No Fire Zone near Mullaithivu were discussed in the UN Security Council but a resolution that could have involved condemnation of both the government and the LTTE could not be moved because both Russia and China that had veto powers had made known that this was not a matter for a resolution to be adopted because it did not threaten world peace.

Success

A certain degree of success came the Sri Lanka government’s way when the UN Security Council called on the LTTE to surrender and allow civilians trapped in the battle zone to leave. The LTTE should lay down arms, renounce terrorism and allow UN assisted evacuation of remaining civilians in the conflict area, UNSC President Claude Heller announced after the meeting while also insisting that the Sri Lankan government abide by international humanitarian law in allowing aid access to refugees.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said on Thursday that he was sending a humanitarian team to the No Fire Zone where civilians were trapped. He had said that the UN team must be allowed into the No Fire Zone as quickly as possible and asked for ‘strong support and speedy assistance’ from the government.

Post conflict planning?

Of note was US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s address to the US Congress that the Sri Lanka government ‘knows the entire world is very disappointed in its efforts to end the 25 year old conflict  which is causing untold suffering.’ She had also said that the United States has ‘made it clear that as soon as there is some lull to the fighting or an end to the fighting, there has to be not only massive humanitarian  aid but a political resolution.’

While criticising  the LTTE for its ‘lack of openness’ she had said: The United States ‘is already beginning  intensive post conflict planning.’ While New Delhi went into the usual reflex action when Sri Lanka is in a crisis: declaring its intention of sending ‘top officials’ to discuss the situation in the country, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner had suggested that France would try to launch a humanitarian operation and he would have discussions with his British counterpart David Miliband in this regard.

Muted response

The response of the Sri Lankan government which had steadfastly rejected all proposals of foreign involvement in the Sri Lankan crisis, was rather muted. Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama rejected claims of Hillary Clinton that the ‘world was disappointed with efforts by the government to end the war.’ He welcomed offers of international assistance to refugees such as from India and the US.

The question is whether international pressure had now resulted in the breaking down of the will of the government to resist any incursions of foreign involvement. Sri Lanka in the past has welcomed humanitarian assistance from abroad but the question arises whether the assistance that seems to have a cascading potential now, has only a humanitarian content.

What did US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton imply by the remark that ‘after a lull or end to the fighting there has to be a political resolution’ and that the US is already ‘beginning post  conflict planning’?

International media

The propaganda of the international  media was markedly hostile towards the Sri Lankan  government till an estimated 30,000 civilians  who were being held hostage escaped from the  LTTE across a lagoon into the government controlled areas. Even though international TV channels such as the BBC and al Jazeera said that no journalists were being permitted into the No Fire Zone and that the actual situation remained unknown, they still managed to present scenes of refugees in their pitiable state and daily accounts of events. The LTTE media experts, it is likely had been in touch with the world media but not our government propagandists.

Some of the footage presented was most likely that of the LTTE which would have been given to these channels. The remarkable feature was the distinct hostility evident in the coverage till Monday when it was implied that government forces were firing into the No Fire Zone, even artillery, thus injuring and killing civilians while some international media  reports ignored or made only casual references that these civilians were being held as a human shield by the LTTE.

The anti-Sri Lankan bias of the ‘independent’ Western media and even the so called Arab channel al Jazeera stood out and coincided remarkably with the views held by Western leaders and their governments.

Rejuvenation attempts

Strenuous denials by Sri Lanka government ministers and spokesmen of firing into the No Fire Zone were treated casually or were even ignored by this media. The United States and Britain  kept repeating their calls for a ceasefire and resumption of negotiations which were hailed by the beleaguered LTTE.  

‘Commence negotiations’ meant start talking with LTTE leaders most of whom had perished with only the terror supremo remaining and it appeared that artificial respiration to a dying body was being attempted. The question President Rajapakse must ask himself is: Why were denials made by the government not accepted? Was it a question of credibility?

 Mahinda Rajapakse has certainly won the war, the military conflict, but it appears that his propaganda generals have lost the media war. Not one outstanding international journalist or media organisation came out unambiguously in his support. It could mean much because there is the possibility of Eelam War IV or V being continued in the West.


 

 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 

 

 


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