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Sri Lanka 28 November 2007

Reporters Without Borders says air strike on rebel radio station is "war crime"

A Sri Lanka military air strike yesterday on the Voice of Tigers, the radio station of the Tamil Tiger rebels in the north of the country, was a "war crime," Reporters Without Borders said. Three of the station’s staff, who had not been given any warning, and six other civilians were killed in the bombardment by air force jets.

"Voice of Tigers is a propaganda radio operated by the LTTE rebels, but the rules of war are clear - military bombardment and bombing must be limited to strictly military targets," the press freedom organisation said. "The government in Colombo uses the Geneva Conventions to condemn LTTE crimes but forgets the conventions when it bombs what is a civilian installation and therefore protected by the conventions."

The air strike on Voice of Tigers, located near Kilinochchi, took place in the afternoon and left a total of nine civilians dead (including three of the station’s employees) and around 10 civilians wounded. The Tamilnet website identified the dead employees as Isaivizhi Chempiyan (a former presenter), Suresh Linbiyo (a technician) and T. Tharmalingam.

The bombing was carried out as the station was providing coverage of the annual War Heroes’ Day ceremonies, which the LTTE observes in the regions it controls. According to Tamilnet, broadcasts were able to continue with the help of another clandestine transmitter.

The Sri Lankan military confirmed that the air force had destroyed the "clandestine Tiger terrorists radio station" in Kilinochchi. Previous air strikes in October 2006 caused serious damage to the station and wounded two employees.

The Berne-based International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (created under Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions), told Reporters Without Borders last year: "Deliberate attacks against journalists and infrastructure belonging to or used by the press constitute a serious violation of international law. Journalists have the right to perform their role in territories where fighting is taking place."

News media in other countries have been targeted as "propaganda media," setting very dangerous precedents for the press. NATO bombed Serbian radio and TV headquarters in Belgrade in April 1999, killing 16 employees. The Israeli military blew up the Voice of Palestine radio and TV building in Ramallah, on the West Bank, in January 2001. And the Kabul bureau of the pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera was the target of a US air strike on 12 November 2001.




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