22 April, 2019

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‘Journalists Failed To Tell The Story Of War Crimes In Sri Lanka’

By   –

Frances Harrison

Today marks three years since the end of the fighting in Sri Lanka. I would like to mourn the dead but still I do not know how many. Estimates range from seven to 147,000. It is a shocking difference.

How is it possible in this world of satellites, rolling news and internet we have no idea how many human beings really perished, even rounded up to the nearest thousand?

It is because as journalists we have failed to get close to the truth. On one hand the Sri Lankan government says the 2009 war was a magnificent humanitarian rescue operation, while on the other many Tamils say it was a genocide. As reporters it is not enough to quote both extremes without digging a little deeper, but that is what the media reports in 2009 were like, citing army and rebel claims and just adding a proviso that these were unverified because journalists had no access to the war zone.

Perhaps that is why the media dubbed the Sri Lankan conflict “a war without witness”. That is simply not true. There were 60 Catholic priests and nuns, 240 local NGO workers, and Tamil civil servants working for the central government including five doctors. All of them were people who prided themselves on their professional integrity. Not to mention the survivors of this war, many of whom are now traumatised, suicidal, destroyed people, racked with guilt at being alive when so many around them died. Every emaciated person who walked out of those months of hell had a tale of narrowly missing death, of sitting chatting to someone one minute and seeing them dead the next. This is a story that has been largely missed, with the notable exception of Channel 4 news.

There is little knowledge of the horror of those final months of war in a tiny patch of tropical, palm-fringed beach. It was a place where milk powder was more precious than gold, where women cut up their best silk wedding saris to make sandbags and children died hungry while an hour down the road the shops were full of food.

Numbed to the sight of death, families were forced to abandon the corpses of their loved ones as they ran for their lives. A brave doctor who saved thousands of lives is haunted by the memory of the 150 patients he abandoned under a tree on the last day of the war; he can no longer stand the sight of blood and does not want to be a surgeon. It was a place where loving parents discussed suicide with their children, unable to tolerate the agony of dying one by one. A medic saw a baby born with a bullet lodged in his tiny leg, shot while still in the womb. In the makeshift hospitals dying mothers screamed for their babies to give them one last feed – knowing the breast milk would be their last gift of life.

It was not just the indiscriminate government rockets fired from multi-barreled launchers into densely packed civilian refugee camps that caused untold suffering. At night in the bunkers women cursed and ranted against the Tamil Tiger rebels who stole their children. At first it was one child recruited from each family; in the final months they came back for the second and third children.

Parents buried their teenagers underground, hiding them in suffocatingly hot diesel cans with just a pipe to breathe through, hoping to evade the child-catchers. It was bad enough to lose your home and possessions, even worse to have your precious son or daughter taken away to die a pointless death in a jungle trench.

Three years on there is still no clarity about what really happened. The Tigers refused a credible Norwegian surrender plan with international supervision, which would have given amnesty to all but the two top rebels. It would have prevented all the torture, rape and disappearances after the end of the war. But the rebel leadership preferred to hold out for a humanitarian intervention that could have saved them as a political force. As a result they exposed their own people to more bloodshed at the hands of the Sri Lankan army when defeat was already guaranteed. It was an immoral and callous decision and it fed the cycle of revenge, ensuring the continuation of the struggle.

In Libya Colonel Gaddafi took his loyal bodyguards and fought to the death, but Velupillai Prabakharan, leader of the Tamil Tigers, took tens of thousands of exhausted but trusting Tamil civilians with him to the end. There is no public discussion of these choices in the Sri Lankan media, no questioning of what armed struggle really achieved, no acknowledgement of the assassination, extortion and child recruitment by the rebel leaders.

The evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Sri Lankan government has been independently documented by a United Nations inquiry that many journalists do not seem to have read in full.

For a long time the government claimed theirs was a “zero civilian casualty war” – a ridiculous assertion that was never properly challenged. Human rights groups documented more than 30 attacks on makeshift hospitals in six months. It is hard to believe they were all accidental.

Last night at a Frontline Club debate watched by 844,042 people live online, I heard a Sri Lankan MP in charge of reconciliation say the international Red Cross had praised the Sri Lankan army for its restraint. The same Red Cross publicly confirmed its staff had come under fire inside a hospital from positions held by the Sri Lankan military. When the fighting ended, the Red Cross said it had seen a lot of wars, but rarely one where civilians had been so badly affected. They called it an “unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe”.

Many Tamils blame the international community for abandoning them to die. It is true that the United Nations failed utterly in its duty of care. Those aid workers who spoke out were forced to leave the country. Record numbers of journalists were killed and exiled in a deliberate attempt to silence the truth.

But no intrepid journalists smuggled their way into rebel territory as they did in Syria, even though an erratic bus service ran across the front line until mid-January 2009. There were Scottish, Australian and Bangladeshi UN staff who witnessed war crimes at the start of the war, but their stories did not get out at the time. Journalists reported on British politicians wooing the Tamil vote in general elections but they failed to read a Swedish study that found the UK issued more arms-export licenses for Sri Lanka during 2001-2008 than any country in Europe.

At the time 400,000 Tamils were trapped in the war zone in Sri Lanka, international media attention was focused on Gaza where at most an estimated 1,500 died. A UN report now says reports of up to forty thousand civilian deaths in 2009 in Sri Lanka are credible. If that number is correct, then the defeat of the Tamil Tigers was one of the bloodiest conflicts so far this century. Every journalist has heard of Srebrenica. How many have heard of Mullivaikkal where just as many perished?

*Frances Harrison is a former BBC correspondent in Sri Lanka and her book “Still Counting the Dead” which tells survivors’ stories from the 2009 war will be published in London by Portobello Books in July in e-book form and October in print. (Courtesy journalism.co.uk)

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    Journalists Failed To Tell The Story.. HA HA HA HA that is a SELECTIVE UNDErSTATEMENT BY EVEN WESTERN JOUTNALIST STANDARDS.. these are the same Western Media who constantly and shamefully for 64 years dont tell the story or the plight and continue to even demonize the Palestine people and plight. They dont even for once mention the hard life of the palestinian people and their day to day plight for 64 years.. and those selective western journalist who do start to tell the story are hounded out of their profession… So pls dont lecture to the world about failures.

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    Ha Ha Ha SJV with your bogus name do not poo poo. It’s been a hidden secret how the SL tax payers money which was used to pay Bell Pottinger team who tirelesly tried to bury the truth all over the world by tactical bullying. They bullied the media into removing any negetive publicity of SL hidden war. They not really fully succeeded in burying the bad news of war and some how the truth surfaced.God knows how? Good piece of journalism. Well done Francis Harrison.

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    I usually commented against Frances Harrison during the war time and (Specially in DBSj’s website Tamilweek and in BBC comment sections. It was because it seems Frances had some grudge against Sinhalese the way she wrote. I had always a problem accepting British MPs uncanny support to LTTE and their people in UK. As we are opposed to Rajapaksha government to the same breath we were opposed to Prabhakaran. They could have influenced the Tigers. BBC journalists, British MPs, south Africans, Milibands the whole lot. They didn’t. They though by attacking GOSL they could influence the outcome. I am glad finally after 3 years Frances is writing an somewhat unbiased article. Yes Prabhakaran took the money and stopped Tamils voting to Ranil the opposition leader. he snatched children from their own people, he took them by force with him and they were the the target of SL Army. As much as SL army was inhuman, these LTTE and their supports in UK are equally inhuman. No one cared for us ordinary citizens. Channel 4 film a is good one. But they could have done better by showing their backers in UK was supportive suicide missions in Sri Lanka and to child snatchers. They never show that part.As much as Rajapaksha brothers, theses fund raisers are also war criminals. I hope Frances can write unbiased artcles about all that.

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    Frances,journalists failed to tell the story of murder, rape and civilian casualties in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. New York Times editor in chief admitted to their cheer leader attitude towards Bush’s rush to war in Iraq. Spare us your typical White Christian sanctimony. If you really want to know the truth ask Seymour Hersh what a tough time he had getting the truth out of Vietnam where your ilk rolled over and bent over to the government and it’s lies. In the US Democratic Candidate for Senate, and former Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska is a war criminal. He admitted to killing in cold blood between 20 and 25 innocent Vietnamese civilians in a hamlet on the Mekong Delta. He has a 50-50 chance of being elected a Senator again. He is a war criminal. Where was the white christian press on this issue? MyLai broke out only as a result of one single journalist. You have all failed to question American conduct in iraq where civilians were getting shot wholesale by jittery christian soldiers. people getting killed on mere suspicion of being rebels. people being killed in airstrikes just when convoys were passing by because they looked suspicious to your white soldiers. OBama has increased Predator drone strikes on terrorists and subsequently more innocent civilians are dying too(you call it Collateral damage in your media).. You have failed to ask questions about the use of chemical weapons in Falluja by the US Marines and also failed to ask questions about shooting up ambulances. You have failed to ask questions on the round up and incarceration of young Iraqi men(tens of thousands of them) simply for being around battle zones; you failed to tell the world they had no recourse to legal counsel. You have failed to tell the world NATO has killed dozens of civilians in oil Rich Libya i their strikes to get rid of Gaddaffi. You have failed to tell the world why(the real reason) British and American companies were so eager to get rid of Gaddaffi.

    Go back to how America’s main liberal newspapers NY Times and Washington post admitted their guilt. The New York Times and Washington Post published mea culpas about their deficient coverage, admitting mistakes were made before the invasion of Iraq. The media community entered a period of introspection only in hindsight. Some of the most glaring failures – the lack of skepticism, failure to verify information, lack of tough questions – were right out of Newsgathering 101.(quote)

    Today your media is whipping up a frenzy against Iran with help from AIPAC in the USA.

    Did you ask how many Iraqi civilians were killed by Christian bombs and soldiers? Did you ask how many refugees were created by your leaders? did you ask how many IDPs are there in Iraq? Did you know General Tommy Franks said “We dont do body counts”? when asked about how many Iraqi innocents were killed?

    How do you sleep at night with your selective righteousness?

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    ….it appears far too late to brag about the numbers killed in a WAR that ended 3 years ago…
    …anyway this article also somehow appears that the timing is right to incite another one… since the Hero of the Aryan nation has been provoked and it is at the stage of reluctance to step into the next stage … the weapons producers know that somehow they could incite more violence and conflict in order to get more orders …. now our readers know better how to filter these articles written by journalists who failed or journalists yet to fail ….and read the truth in between the lines …..
    Best thing for us – Sri Lankans is to go back on the age old Eastern Path of Non Violence and discuss and sort out issues like we had done centuries ago….
    These articles are good to learn the English Language as some of our Professors and MPs still do …

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    Journalists also failed to tell the truth to the world purposely or by design every time when Israeli army had to enter West Bank or Gaza Strip supported by F16 fighter jets and tanks in a civilian conflict to kill innocent children, women and non-combatants in their pursuit to apprehend PLO, Hamas or Fatah members. No journalists were permitted by the Israeli govt to cover the story. The International community has a double standard when it comes to Sri Lanka.

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      Well said.. These are the Same BBC that Banned a Rap song by a young palestine rap artist.. because it had the word Free Palestine.. As its too offensive… That says it all re selective treatment…

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    Well articulated Frances. I have said a fair amount on the Frontline Panel discussion. This Gamaya writes sme nonsense and has his own philosophy. If those Tamils and Indian Government, Tamil Nadu State Govt. and Tamil diaspora committed war crimes and are war criminals then all the Singhala racist-chauvinist who supported their Singhala government from the 1983 riots until now are supporters of the State Terrorist who are also war criminals. The US, UK, and Canadian government have already prosecuted many Tamils who supported the war and jailed them.

    However, the last judgments are patently clear the courts now realize why the Tamils did what they did have freed two in the last two cases. The world opinion is now changing and the IC is now clamoring for independent investigations.

    It was sad to see the two Tamil representatives were pathetic and having their own agenda. Janani was promoting her representation of TAG, which she cleverly omitted that TAG was formed after they stole the attorney of Tamils For Justice, Bruce Fein. She also claims that TAG had a mandate which was nonsense, and she joined in months after TAG was formed. But her presentation was so weak and British Tamils could have been better represented.

    Thambimuttu is not a human rights activist from Batticaloa but an aspiring politician representing Mahinda Rajapakse’s party in Batticaloa. He is scheduled to contest the elections in a few months together with former LTTE leaders like Pillaiyan and Karuna who were associated with the murders of his father and mother.

    Could not understand what role Thambimuttu had regarding the Channel 4 video and this panel discussion. He is a disgrace to the Tamils and being associated with war criminals and state terrorist would receive a good response from the Tamil voters.

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      Another boot licker in the name of Thambimuttu aiming for his ministerial post and power. Had already forgotten the killers of his parents and dancing with the devils now. No conscience what so ever.

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    “This Gamaya writes sme nonsense and has his own philosophy.” Gnanakone – yes these are nonsense because you could be one of those war criminals who sent money to Tigers for suicide bombing. I never hated Tamils never will. But I have apathy for your type who live happily in another country and support war in a country for monetary gains, satisfy your ego and support to corrupt Sri Lanka politicians. yes we talk nonsense according to you because types like you can’t face the truth. Tell me why Sri lankan government mum about diaspora Ealamist people who funded the war. because they want their money. Same bedfellows. You have as much as responsibility for Tamil plight in North as Rajapakshas.

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      @Gamaya- If you have proof that I am a war criminal, you are more than welcome like the government ministers from 1983 (Both UNP and SLFP) to make official complaints to the FBI and USG. The fact is there is no bloody evidence. What LTTE did or not do has nothing to do with members of the Tamil diaspora… The TD does not give instructions how to carry out the war,.
      When Singhala State Terrorist bomb, shoot, shell and kill on a daily basis, the freedom fighters will respond. That happened for 30 years.

      The final total Rajapakses -MOD/GOSL boast about child soldiers (aka under 18, although the Geneva conventions article 77 clearly states as the IC and UN Law is under 15 are child soldiers), is only 595. It was Karuna and Pillaiyan who were responsible for most of the violations, so Rajapakses can’t talk too much. Both are Ministers and Chief Ministers respectively.

      If there was NO RAPE and Torture/Murder children would not have wanted to have joined the LTTE and become soldiers.

      The issue here is about the War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.
      The tens of thousands of Tamil civilians murdered and that included over 10,000 Tamil children under 18. So stop freaking shedding crocodile tears about LTTE having a few hundred child soldiers under 18.

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    “then all the Singhala racist-chauvinist who supported their Singhala government from the 1983 riots until now are supporters of the State Terrorist who are also war criminal” – Of course they are. Prosecute them. I will support it fully. They should be hanged. Who says the Sinhala nationalists who burn Tamil properties are not war criminals. They are and you are war criminals if you support bombings and child recruitment and forced keeping of civilians. You SUPPORTED it. As those sinhala chauvinists. Our problem is/was Channel 4 and BBC journalists (Frances Harrsion etc) tried to paint a rosy picture about you while vilifying Sinhalese only. It seems changing. I met a Tamil who told me how LTTE used artillery among civilians and waited with video camera patiently until army retaliates and recorded the carnage. Your own people. Are you justifying that? These Tamils don’t say these to Journalists for 2 reasons which I can understand perfectly. They need support of Other Tamils so they can’t go against them. Also by doing so they may appear supporting government which they don’t want and I think which is correct. Government did not care about it’s own civilians the fact I agree.

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      @Gamaya. I do not need to be debating this issue with you. I will debate it with the GOSL directly and in public forum. Since the Tamils and Singhalese will never ever agree on the facts and truth, is the reason why there needs to be an independent international investigations.

      Why are the Singhala Buddhist-racist-chauvinist-jingoist-extremist so scared of the Investigations? Tamils are not worried!! If there were mistakes made by the LTTE over a period of 30 years let that me known and the violators be punished but not tortured, raped and murdered. GOSL had 11,000 LTTE boys and girls they could not kill? May be they ran out of bullets and shells after killing 100,000??

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    It Is a very intersting paragraph you had written that says it all. It was Prabakaran who killed innocent babie,pregnant mothers Buddhist pilgrims while worshipping, Buddhist monks which the westtern media did not condemn now attention is drawn to the tamils who has been used as a humanshield by the said terrorist leader. Is according to western media Prabakaran a good terrorist leader if so is their discrimination when it comes to terrorism as well.

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    Who ever commit war crimes have to be punished. It can be LTTE or Govt of Sri lanka. If you say that all citizens in SL are equal then why this disparity and continued harassment by the troops. Why they have to remain in North and East after the conclusion of war. No one can deny whatever had happen in Sri Lanka, acts of crimes committed during the last days of war. At least now you have bold enough to say that UN the UN failiure and continued failure to account the killings of 146,000 civilians, I am not concerned about the LTTE or the ARMY. Why this continued impartiality, are you trying to protect some big guys like INDIA and UN staff Nambiar. When the charges were brought againt those committed war crimes I wanted to see how the in ternational community going to deal with UN and the INDIAN GOVT of their direct involvement. Let us not try to protect any individual, that will not bring reconciliation and peace in that lovely Nation

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    Correct!

    Failure started 30 years ago.

    LTTE was raising funds and running propaganda from their bases in the West.

    Journalists, including Franes Harrison failed to tell the Story Of LTTE war crimes In Sri Lanka financed with funds collected in the West for 30 years.

    Frances, Where were you for 30 years?

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    Correct….you failed and failed miserably. Would have been better had you kept your trap shut. your reporting from the start was biased towards the tigers,not only you, all of you from the west.
    And still try to do the same while pretending to be balanced by blaming prabakaran for his faliures.

    You all were the reason for his faliure,all of you, who spoke and screamed on behalf of him. Giving him a false sense of security and invincibility.

    your narration of last days of the war is magnificent, It even beats CH4 and even beat a first hand account any day.

    I think even now it is not too late for you all to ask yourselves,
    was it a failiure on your part or you are trying hide behind a failure lable to get rid of your guilt for your immoral actions.

    Anyway this piece is a precursor to a book launch and some free adverting, one can imagine what the book will be like.
    Bet you’ll beat Gordon Wise in the fictions department.

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    We have all the evidence we need to hold the Rajapaske’s to account. Channel 4’s documentaries were based upon actual recordings made by Sri Lankan thugs (they can in no way be described as soldiers) in the war zone. Indeed Sri Lanka three years after the end of the conflict is amongst the most violent and corrupt country in the world. As for the UN its a busted flush. Tourists beware. Women from Russia, Germany, Sweden and Holland have all been raped there whilst on holiday since Christmas 2011. One British man murdered and his female companion gang raped and beaten by the local Government Minister in Tangalle Sri Lanka. Nobody is ever brought to justice as the local witnesses are threatened with death if they assist the Police who are themselves indemically corrupt and controlled by the Rajapaske mafia. There is no rule of law in Sri Lanka other the law of the jungle. You have been warned. I know i lived there for some years.

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    Frances you are portraying a very biased view.And some of the other western journalists have done the same.But why?The terrorists killed innocent Sinhalese farmers in their farms,while sleeping,they cut them with swords,They bombed innocent people travelling in trains,buses,three wheelers,they killed brutally people praying in temples,churches.They decimated the central bank full of innocent people who came to the bank that day and the bank staff.They planted heavy guns inside a hospital.They killed intellectual Tamils who disliked their mode of operations, ruthless killings of innocent people.They kept several hundred Tamil people as a barrier to protect themselves.Escaping people were gunned down by these ruthless terrorists.There are lot of Tamil people living in peace all over SriLanka.No Sinhalese people were allowed to live in Jaffna.They performed genocide and now blaming the Sinhalese for the same.

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    YES SO CALLED JOURNALISTS FAILED TO REPORT ONE MILLION DEATHS IN IRAQ DUE TO INVATION, OVER HUNDRED THOUSAND IN AFGANISTAN DUE TO “MISTAKES” AND “COLLATERAL DAMAGE” OVER FIVE THOUSAND IN PAKISTAN DUE TO DRONE ATTACKS. OVER 50,000 IN LIBYA DUE TO “HUMANITARIAN OPERATIONS”. NOW ITS BETTER THOSE TAMIL HYPOCRITICS AND THEIR WESTERN BACKERS INCLUDING SO CALLED JOURNALISTS SHUT THEIR HUMANITARIAN MOUTHS!

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    Frances I met you with Varuna Karunatillake in Jaffna. I tried to open your eyes then and although Br. Sarath Karunaratne gave you his jeep to meet LTT informants he did not force you to have a meilitary escort. You were free to travel and speak to the people you wanted to. You told me I had a chip on my shouler but I told you the truth. The LTTE was a group who did more harm to us Tamils than the Sinhalese did.

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    Only a few Tamils complain about the LTTE regime of 33 years. Sure, there cannot be a perfect liberation fighters and group.
    Popularity of the LTTE after 3 years can be seen in India and the rest of the world. In Sri Lanka there is plenty of support, respect and regard. But nobody dare talk about LTTE for the fear of State Terrorism.
    Now Singhalese and Muslims are at the receiving end, which include the paramilitary and Grease Devils attacks.

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    @Gnanakone – I said “you could be one of those war criminals”. And you go on and saying to me to prove it. Well SL government has list of Tamils who funded and supported LTTE that they are not publishing. They share that only with western agencies whenever it suits them. Any way I read about one Donald Gnanakone who was arrested in Sri Lanka, who did some business with LTTE in Singappore. He was released after paying huge bribe I heard. (Not verified but yes in an independent investigation this can come out too). Apart from that I missed the front-line debate but I will sure be appearing next forums wherever possible. Tamils like you and Leftists in UK regard LTTE as freedom fighters and I don’t. Perhaps early times but not late 90s and certainly in 2000. Tamils support LTTE as you say because there was no one else. They were all killed. I had a privilege of meeting one member from Uma Maheswaran’s group in late 80s Fort Government Clerks union building. he talked warmly about getting support from Sinhala masses. That Fascist Intolerant murderer called Prabhkaran killed anyone who wants be friendly with Sinhalese. He built his evil empire entirely on hatred and lost it with equaly matching hatred from other side. If you want reconciliation, then do understand Both sides should accept the crimes committed. GOSL cannot hide behind LTTE atrocities or atrocities in Iraq to hide own ones, LTTE and its Tamil Diaspora cannot hide under “Freedom Fighter” banner. Freedom fighter banner works with South Africans, gullible western leftists and labour, liberal parties of UK but not with us who were there.

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    I am glad that Frances Harrison is slowly beginning to see the wood for the trees.Finally a balanced article. She should search deeper in her quest for the truth.She may surprise herself and the so called world leaders of the west during the past 35 years for their massive ignorance of a problem that could have been nipped in the bud in the formative years! But then, it had to run its course for the world to learn. However, as long as journalists such as Harrison deliberately turn a Nelsonian eye to the truth, they are letting the innocents of this world down.

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    Donald Gnanakone was never arrested any where. It must be Gamaya’s hallucination. Yes, LTTE were Freedom Fighters for Tamils. Uma Maheswaran was a useless quisling. He had no discipline. My brother Charles was arrested under false pretexes and he was cleared by the courts and the Police after 55 days of investigations 7 years ago, over his friend Lakshman Kadirgamar’s assassination.
    We did not bribe any corrupt Sinhalese bastards. It was fought in courts, and he was an Australian citizen. That is the problem in Sri Lanka. 80% of the bastards in the government are corrupt. May be more. Now there are more liars too.

    It was the Rajapakses and Tiran Alles who were involved in Bribery and Corruption over the Presidential election. What a shame and disgrace.

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    @Gamaya. GOSL and MOD have no bloody clue who funded who despite KP, Karuna, and Pillaiyan with them, 3 years after the war. In other words they do not know their ass from their elbow. That is the damn fact.

    yes, it is true they give all kinds of information to the likes of MI5 and FBI. 99% of the information – so called information turned out to be false from 1983…

    How many Tamils worldwide have been convicted for funding the LTTE in the last 15 years? And those convicted was not due to information given my the GOSL. Even NY was released by a NY judge 2 weeks ago, because the court realized that the fund collection he had done was very trivial.

    You fellows have to realize is the issue is not about LTTE. The issues about are SRI LANKA the country involved in WAR CRIMES AND CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY. The UN, US, and IC want international independent investigations. That simple….Get It? I guess not. They do not believe the LIES of the Rajapakses.

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