LTTE forcibly holding civilians
There is no genocide in Sri Lanka says Human Rights Watch representative

The Sri Lankan government is not committing genocide in the North, said Charu Lata Hogg of Human Rights Watch.

It is the LTTE which is forcibly holding innocent civilians as a human shield and shoot at them when they try to flee. There are certainly international guidelines which have to be met in a conflict situation. Sri Lanka cannot just be accused of genocide.

Ms. Hogg was participating in a discussion, "Reactive Media Talk: Sri Lanka - a hollow victory?", held in London on February 24, organized by Frontline Club.

She said that more than 2000 civilians were killed and over 5000 injured since January 2009 in the Northern battlefront in Sri Lanka. "Both Government troops and the LTTE are responsible for that. It is not only the Sri Lankan Army -- there have been killings and shootings by the LTTE as well. A large number of injuries have been caused to civilians as a result of the LTTE firing at them, Hogg said.

She also said around 40,000 civilians have already escaped from LTTE clutches and reached government controlled areas. They are being looked after by the government in welfare centres.

At this point, a group of Tamils in the audience tried to heckle her.

 Priyath Liyanage of BBC Sinhala Service chaired this discussion while R. Jayadevan of the Alliance for Peace and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka, Pearl Thevanayagam and Francis Harrison (Journalists) and Charu Lata Hogg (Human Rights Watch) were in the panel. Leader publisher Lal Wickrematunge joined the discussion from Colombo over the phone.

 Wickrematunge said that there is an unofficial media censorship in Sri Lanka and more and more journalists are fleeing the country because of threats. He pointed out that no independent news can be obtained from the war zone and everybody has to use the information given by the government or military spokesman.

 Thevanayagam said that she was keen in reporting from the North and East warfront and the late Lasantha Wickrematunge given her the opportunity.

"I was arrested in 1995 and later came to the UK as a refugee. After Richard de Zoysa's slaying in 1990, there were 36 journalist killed in Sri Lanka’, she noted.

At present, Thevanayagam is the secretary of an organization which comprises of over 200 exiled journalists from the world over.

Jayadevan explained his credentials as a journalist. He said at the beginning, he worked for the pro-LTTE paper 'Hotspring' published in the UK. He was instrumental in starting Tamil Guardian and at present he is contributing to Sri Lanka Guardian and Tamilaffairs.com web site.

The LTTE cannot be wiped out. They might lose their territory but they would switch to guerrilla warfare, he asserted. "To resolve this problem, there should be a ceasefire and a bi-partisan approach by the government and the opposition".

 Priyath Liyanage said that BBC correspondent for Jaffna, Nimala Rajan was killed 10 years ago and the perpetrators have not brought to justice so far. Rajan was killed when there was a curfew in force and his house was situated near a checkpoint.

 Answering a question whether the LTTE is now being defeated, he said that they are definitely loosing territory but the Sri Lanka Army has not recovered all the heavy artillery from them (LTTE) nor have they killed hundreds and thousands of Tigers.

He said the Army has destroyed seven LTTE runways but only the other day two LTTE aircraft flew into Colombo and launched an attack. He said that he spoke to the LTTE political head the other day and he was in good spirit and focused in what he was doing.

 Frances Harrison said the ceasefire days were good to send reports from Sri Lanka but the situation there at the moment is not good. She said that it took over one and half years for them to get the Nimal Rajan's immediate family out of Sri Lanka as they faced death threats. "Finally, we managed to send them to Canada".

 Frontline Club had requested someone to the panel from the High Commission in London to represent the government and Douglas Wickremaratne, former President of the Federation of Sri Lanka Associations, had been nominated.  Initially, the organizers had agreed, but later Wickremaratne was only given a place in the audience. As a result, he refrained from attending the discussion.

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