Reporters Without Borders reminds the Sri Lankan government of its international undertakings as the media continue to be prevented from moving about freely in the north of the country, especially in the area where tens of thousands of Tamils are surrounded by the army.
The death of at least two journalists in the so-called "no-fire" area tends to support allegations that the Sri Lankan security forces are responsible for war crimes against civilians. It also shows the government is violating UN Security Council resolution 1738 (adopted in December 2006) about protecting journalists in war zones.
“With a major humanitarian crisis and war crimes clearly taking place, the government must heed the international community’s calls for a ceasefire and for better access for humanitarian workers and journalists,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is a disgrace that this war is being waged without independent journalists present. And by preventing thousands of innocent civilians from moving freely, the Tamil Tiger rebels bear a large share of the responsibility for these crimes.”
The press freedom organisation added: “By limiting media coverage to guided tours with the purpose of confirming military victories, the armed forces are preventing the press from doing its job and are disregarding the public’s right to be informed in an independent manner.”
Reporters Without Borders also condemns the propaganda being orchestrated by both the government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam (LTTE) about the fate of the civilians who have been trapped by the military offensive against the rebels.
The organisation calls on the Sri Lankan and international media to join in its condemnation of the obstacles put in the way of the news media in war zones by using its campaign ad: “Whenever blood flows, reporters’ ink should flow too”:
Reporters are unable to travel freely in the northern Vanni district, especially the coastal area where nearly 100,000 civilians and rebel combatants have been surrounded by the army. More than 2,000 are already believed to have died in air strikes or as result of appalling sanitary conditions.
The army claims to have launched “the world’s biggest humanitarian operation” to free the tens of thousands of civilians in the “protected area,” but reports emerging from the last Tamil Tigers redoubt suggest that the situation is catastrophic. The Tamil armed separatists are trying to prevent the civilians from leaving by force, while the government forces continue to bombard the area.
Meanwhile, the military have not organised any press visits to the Vanni district for several weeks.
At least two journalists have been killed in the area. Punniyamurthy Sathyamurthy, the correspondent of several Tamil media based in Canada, was killed in a shelling on 12 February. A reporter for Tamilnet, a news website that supports the LTTE, was killed in a bombardment by government forces in early March.
Sasi Mathan, who was in charge of distribution of the Tamil nationalist daily Eezhanaatham, was killed in March in the Aananthapuram area.