Witnesses to “the War without Witnesses” … Voiceless? Buried Foreign Reporters?

Michael Roberts, courtesy of Colombo Telegraph, where there will be interesting blog-commentary

I commence here with the whole lot of close-up images snapped by Kanchan Prasad of Prasar Bharati at the Last Redoubt in mid-May and passed on to me at some point in 2010 or so. Picture 103--Survivor 1 Picture 106

Picture 105--Survivor 2  Picture 104 Picture 107--Survivor 3

Survivors: There may be others but these are the close-ups in my stock – where they are part of other photographs with more sweeping views of the flotsam and jetsam of the Last Redoubt between Nandikadal Lagoon and the sea. As far as I can work out the women and children photographed above were still in the territory between Nandikadal Lagoon and the sea; but it is possible they had crossed over. As most people know, there was a vast exodus of Tamil people in mid-May, with several succumbing to crossfire or being shot down by those Tigers who remained hardline. The three images that follow, taken by the Ministry of Defence, are deployed here to indicate the intricate warring context: Figure 10a Tamil People at the Last Redoubt after the final battles 2009 - Copy

11-- IDP_20090422_SLARmy SRILANKA/

A selection from Kanchan’s other images can be found within these two items

Indian Reporter Pics at NFZ-14-to-18 May 2009 = http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuppahi/sets/72157626797805167/

Mullivaikkal Hospital in NFZ Last Redoubt http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuppahi/sets/72157626797848747/

Muralidhar Reddy and Kanchan Prasad were taken to the “Last Redoubt” every day on the 14th-18th May, returning to the SL Army HQ area by evening-night so that they could file their reports to their respective Indian offices. I had got to know Reddy (of The Hindu newspaper) well in April-May 2009 when I was visiting Colombo and he asked me to write articles for Frontline. He told me that he had been periodically embedded in the rear battlefront since late 2008; and that he recorded tales from some of the Tamil people who successfully fled from their corralled hostage situation from late 2008 onwards – with the aid of a translator [because his mother tongue is Telugu].

I was not introduced to Kanchan till a year later when I visited Lanka in May-June 2010 … and discovered that Reddy used no camera and that it is Kanchan to whom we are indebted for a number of revealing still images during those visits where she was present.

Picture_008[1]  Reddy with Major-General Shavindra Silva of the 58th Brigade at the SL Army base camp at Kilinochchi on 13th May when Reddy and Prasad were given a briefing and where the General “asked us what we needed for reporting purposes” (email from Reddy to Roberts, 28 Dec. 2013)

Note that Reddy has told the world that “[t]here were no conditions spelled out on the coverage from the war zone.  We were allowed unfettered and unhindered movement up to 400 meters from the zone, where pitched battles were fought between the military and the remaining cadre and leaders of the LTTE….Most important was the fact that we had interference-free access to the internet, including Tamilnet, the website perceived to be pro-LTTE and based somewhere in Europe.  Within the constraints of internet time available, and not-unexpected problems of connectivity and speed in a war zone, there was just enough time to read and absorb the reports on the websites before sending news dispatches to our headquarters.  No questions were asked” (Reddy, “An eye-witness account of the last 70 hours of Eelam War IV,” Frontline, Volume 26-Issue 12:  June 6-19, 2009).

Unfortunately Kanchan and Reddy had decided to fly back to Colombo on the 19 May morning and missed the final skirmish on the 18.19th night when a band of hidden Tamil Tigers were flushed out in swampy mangrove terrain on the edge of Nandikadal Lagoon and Prabhākaran’s corpse was discovered among the dead.

While Prasad and Reddy may have been given a privileged place among reporters in mid-May, they were among a number of other foreign journalists airlifted to the front on other occasions in the months January-April 2009. See the list in http://www.scribd.com/doc/185693507/SL-ARMY-Media-Accreditation-to-War-Zone-2007-2009…. REPEAT  http://www.scribd.com/doc/185693507/SL-ARMY-Media-Accreditation-to-War-Zone-2007-2009

Therein lies a remarkable tale does it not. The accounts sent by these intrepid personnel were so noticeable – that is so buried or glossed over – that the general opinion in Colombo as well as the wide-wide-and-wild world is that no reporters were permitted even a sniff of the frontline arena.

What does this gross error say to us now, today? It demonstrates the power wielded by the Tamil psy-ops circuit working in association with their aides in powerful media outlets in the West. A LIE has been written down in stone and has lit the sky. This lie is now inscribed within several brains and repeated ad nauseam. Amen it is in THEIR SKY. As this metaphor indicates, they ‘own’ the media sky.


27 Jan-Ravi N interview with Udawattta 26-27 Jan Ravi N in plane

26-27 Jan-cluster in plane 26-27 JAN 1 in plane

FOREIGN MEDIA AT PUTHUKKUDIYIRUPPU & PUTTUMATTALAAN – 24 April 2009: PICs by Kanchan Prasad of Prasar Bharati

Reporters briefing -april 2009- 22

Reporters-April 2009 - 11

Reporters -april 2009- 22 Reporters at rear war front -perhaps PTK-april 2009- 22 Reporters on armoured car -april 2009- 22


                                   SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY

Government of Sri Lanka 2013 “The Last Phase,” http://tinyurl.com/q5ejlla AND http://youtu.be/GXzRbGyhAHI AND http://tinyurl.com/pq3pykg AND http://tinyurl.com/pxbrhgk with http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngNeF5WY64s carrying no sub-titles and being quite effective thereby.

Gray, David 2009 “A Day at the Front Line in Sri Lanka (Photographer’s Blog),” 27 April 2009, http://blogs.reuters.com/photographers-blog/2009/04/27/a-day-at-the-front-line-in-sri-lanka/

Groundviews 2009 “Would killing 50,000 civilians to finish off the LTTE bring peace?” http://groundviews.org/2009/05/03/would-killing-50000-civilians-to-finish-off-the-ltte-bring-peace/

Noble, Kath  2013 “Numbers Game reviewed by Kath Noble: The full monty,” 14 July 2013, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/numbers-game-reviewed-by-kath-noble-the-full-monty/

Padraig Colman 2011 Evaluating the ‘Churnalism’ from Channel 4 and the Moon Panel,” 17 August 2011, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/a-credible-evaluation-of-%e2%80%9cchurnalism%e2%80%9d-from-channel-4-and-the-moon-panel/.

Padraig Colman 2011 “The Cage by Gordon Weiss,” Island, 13 May 2013, 2http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=78825

Prasad, Kanchan 2011a “Indian Reporter Pics at NFZ-14-to-18 May 2009,”  http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuppahi/sets/72157626797805167/

Prasad, Kanchan 2011b “Mullivaikkal Hospital in NFZ Last Redoubt,” in http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuppahi/sets/72157626797848747/

Prasad, Kanchan 2011c “Two Indian Reporters’ Post-War Pictures at the LTTE’s Last Redoubt, May 14-19, 2009,” ed. by Roberts, June 2011, http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/blogs/southasiamasala/2011/06/10/two-indian-reporters%E2%80%99-post-war-pictures-at-the-ltte%E2%80%99s-last-redoubt-may-14-19-2009

Rajasingham, Narendran 2009 “Rise and Fall of the LTTE — An Overview,” Sri Lanka Guardian, 7 Feb. 2009, http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2009/02/rise-and-fall-of-ltte-overview.html.

Reddy, B. Muralidhar 2009a “Nerves on test,” 11-24 April 2009, Frontline, 26/8,  http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl2608/stories/20090424260810100.htm

Reddy, B. Muralidhar 2009b “Endgame,” Frontline, 26/10, 9-22 May 2009, http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl2610/stories/20090522261000400.htm

Reddy, Muralidhar 2009c “Devastated lives,” Frontline, 26/10, 9-22 May 2009, http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl2610/stories/20090522261000700.htm

Reddy, Muralidhar 2009d “Damning indictment,” Frontline, 26/10, 9-22 May 2009, http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl2610/stories/20090522261000900.htm

Reddy, Muralidhar 2009e “Final assault: A first-hand account of the war and the civilians’ plight as Eelam War almost comes to a close,” Frontline, 26/11, May 23-June 5, 2009, http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl2611/stories/20090605261102400.htm

Reddy, Muralidhar 2009f “The war is over,” Frontline, 26/12, 6-19 June 2009, http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl2612/stories/20090619261200400.htm

Reddy, Muralidhar 2009g “Final hours,” Frontline, 26/12, 6-19 June 2009,  http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl2612/stories/20090619261200900.htm

Reddy, B. Muralidhar 2009h “An Escape from Hellhole,” http://www.hindu.com/ 2009/04/25/stories/2009042558390100.html.

Reddy, Muralidhar 2009i “Multiple Displacements, Total Loss of Identity.” The Hindu, 27 May 2009, http://www.hindu.com/2009/05/27/stories/2009052755811500.htm OR http://tinyurl.com/Multiple-displacements

Roberts, Michael 2008 “Tamil Tigers: Sacrificial Symbolism and ‘Dead Body Politics’,” Anthropology Today, 24/3: 22-23.

Roberts, Michael 2009a “Dilemma’s at War’s End: Thoughts on Hard Realities,” http://www.groundviews.org, 10 Feb. 2009.

Roberts, Michael 2009b “The Rajapaksa Regime and the Fourth Estate,” 9 December 2009, www.groundviews.org.

Roberts, Michael 2010a “Realities of War,” Frontline, 9-22 May 2009, vol. 26, http://www.frontline.in/navigation/?type=static&page=archive … later reprinted with different title in Roberts, Fire and Storm, 2011.

Roberts, Michael 2010b “Self Annihilation for Political Cause: Cultural Premises in Tamil Tiger Selflessness,” in Roberts, Fire and Storm. Essays in Sri Lankan Politics, Colombo: Yapa,  pp. 161-201.

Roberts, Michael 2011a “A Think-Piece drafted in May 2011,” http://thuppahi.wordpress. com /2011/07/23/a-think-piece-drafted-in-may/#more-2998, 23 July 201

Roberts, Michael  2011bReading “devastation”: Botham, CMJ, Ban Ki-Moon,” 10 June 2011https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/reading%E2%80%9Cdevastation%E2%80%9 D-botham-cmj-ban-ki-moon/

Roberts, Michael  2011c “People of Righteousness target Sri Lanka,” 27 June 2011, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com /2011/06/27/people-of-righteousness-target-sri-lanka/

Roberts, Michael  2011d “A Think-Piece drafted in May 2011,” http://thuppahi.wordpress. com /2011/07/23/a-think-piece-drafted-in-may/#more-2998, 23 July 2011.

Roberts, Michael  2011e “Amnesty International reveals its Flawed Tunnel-Vision in Sri Lanka in 2009,” 10 Aug. 2011, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/amnesty-international-reveals-its-flawed-tunnel-vision-on-sri-lanka-in-2009/

Roberts, Michael  2011f “The Tamil Death Toll in early 2009: Challenging Rohan Gunaratna,” 1 December 2011, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/the -tamil-death-toll-in-early-2009-challenging-rohan-gunaratna/ and http://transcurrents.com/news-views/archives/6285

Roberts, Michael  2013a “Pragmatic Action and Enchanted Worlds: A Black Tiger Rite of Commemoration,” https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/pragmatic-action-enchanted-worlds-a-black-tiger-rite-of-commemoration/a reprint of an article in Social Analysis, 2006, 73–102.

Roberts, Michael  2013bIntroducing “Numbers Game” – A Detailed Study of the Last Stages of Eelam War IV,” https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/introducing-numbers-game-a-detailed-study-of-the-last-stages-of-eelam-war-iv/

Roberts, Michael  2014 “Towards Citizenship in Thāmilīlam: The Tamil People of the North, 2 1983-2010,” in Roberts, Tamil Person and State: Essays, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 132-183.

Samarajiva, Indi 2012 “Channel 4’s – A Review,” The Nation, 18 March 2012, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm131118/debtext/131118-0001.htm#1311188000001




Filed under historical interpretation, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, nationalism, politIcal discourse, prabhakaran, propaganda, Rajapaksa regime, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, Tamil Tiger fighters, the imaginary and the real, truth as casualty of war, world affairs

16 responses to “Witnesses to “the War without Witnesses” … Voiceless? Buried Foreign Reporters?

  1. nuwan

    its time the stupid GOSL.. Launches new media centers, and get experts such as Michael Roberts and crowd to help train and give the true narrative.. instead of the stupid village style politician launched at the int arena… Met a friend at SSC who lived in SL during the entire phase of the war and still beleives there were no journalist in the war zone.. Enough siad about our very own stupid BBC watching idiots.

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  3. RW

    Thanks for the excellent series of articles in the Colombo Telegraph. Judging by the comments, it looks like you have spoilt some people’s New Year Celebrations.

    First they attacked you, and then they attacked other bloggers. Now they are attacking Tamilnet for underestimating the casualty figures!

    As for the casualty figures, it’s worth remembering what the US embassy in Sri Lanka said about TamilNet and other sources in the LTTE-controlled area.

    From Wikileaks 09COLOMBO396, Northern Sri Lanka SitRep 47
    Civilian Casualties and IDP Outflow

    9. (SBU) Tamil sources from within the LTTE-controlled area report

    149 civilians were killed, including 30 children on April 5, and 225
    injured from April 3-5. Pro-LTTE website TamilNet reported 71
    civilians killed and 143 wounded in fighting on April 4 and 5.
    (Note: Such reports from Tamil sources cannot be confirmed and are
    frequently exaggerated.) The Defense Ministry reported 2127
    civilians had reached government territory on April 5.


    If I may suggest one change to your Selected Bibliography above – The youtube link to “The Last Phase” is not the best video for a foreign audience, since it does not have subtitles. The following four links below, instead do carry subtitles:

    Part 1
    Part 2

    Part 3
    Part 4

  4. NAK

    It is really sad that none of these journalists have come forward to say that he/she was in fact a witness of this war and this is what I witnessed.

    • Be careful, NAK. A short one-day visit to the vicinity of the front lines does not necessarily enable a journalist to work out what is happening. Each reporter will see only a small slice of the goings-on. A great deal depends, moreover, on the character of the theatre of war apart from the independence of the reporter from military control. Where the arenas of battle are a mosaic or a patchwork, then reporters may get close to the action. It has been in such theatres of war – such as the Balkans in the 1990s and Libya, Lebanon and Syria today — that some journalists have been killed (whether deliberately or collateral damage).
      See the Kate Adie item and try and get at the video of the National Press Club talk. That said, the fact remains that the evidence presented here shows that major news agencies were indulging in duplicity, chicanery and lies when they permitted the idea that no journalist had access to the war-front to become FACT.
      This in itself is another fact – an outstanding one that calls for investigation and reflection.

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