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Journalists accuse Sri Lanka government, Tamil rebels of gagging media


25 June, 2007:

A number of journalists have stopped reporting on fighting in the north and east of Sri Lanka because the regions are too dangerous, international media rights groups have said.

The media rights groups – including the International Federation of Journalists, the International Press Institute, Reporters Without Borders, and Sri Lanka’s Free Media Movement – also accused the Sri Lankan government and Tamil rebels of restricting freedom of expression and of media rights violations.

They alleged that verbal attacks by government ministers against the media are encouraging “a climate of self-censorship, which is damaging the free flow of information.”

According to a statement from the media rights groups, apart from the arrest and detention of journalists, authorities are gagging the media in Jaffna by restricting deliveries of printing supplies and by prompting revenue officers to raid publishing companies.

In areas controlled by Tamil rebels, freedom of expression and freedom of movement continue to be heavily restricted, thereby preventing access to information and the representation of diverse opinions, the groups said.

Both the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam (LTTE) insurgents restrict journalists’ access to conflict zones, which means that reporters cannot adequately cover the conflict and have to rely on information provided by the opposing sides.

The Sri Lankan government and the Tamil guerrillas have consistently been accused of trying to stifle the independent media since the separatist conflict intensified in the island-nation in December 2005 after years of relative calm.

Over 5,000 people have been killed in clashes, assassinations and air attacks in the past 19 months, taking the death toll from two decades of fighting to more than 70,000.

Rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam have been fighting the government since 1983 to create an independent homeland for the country’s ethnic minority Tamils, who they allege have suffered discrimination by successive majority Sinhalese-controlled governments.

Both sides have mostly ignored a ceasefire, brokered by Norway, that came into effect in 2002, but neither has officially withdrawn from the agreement apparently fearing international criticism.

Meanwhile, amid worsening violence in Sri Lanka, peace broker Norway hosted on June 25, 2007, a meeting of key international aid donors to discuss ways to bring the government and Tamil Tigers back to the negotiating table.

The meeting in Oslo of representatives from the European Union, Japan, the United States and Norway assessed the current situation in the Sri Lankan peace process, according to the Norwegian embassy in Colombo.





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