[After international media picked up on this story, Sri Lanka reversed its ban on visas for al-Jazeera. See the video below.–Frontlines ed.]
Sri Lanka denies visa to Al Jazeera over disturbing images of war
Nov 12, Colombo: Sri Lanka has denied visas to reporters of Qatar-based Al Jazeera news service who wanted to cover the inauguration ceremony of Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa over the broadcast of disturbing images of alleged war crimes.
The Deutsche Press Agency news report citing an External Affairs Ministry spokesman said a decision had been taken not to issue the visas for at least three staffers of Al Jazeera who wanted to cover the swearing-in on November 19 and also to visit the North.
Al Jazeera on last Wednesday published unverified photographs showing a mound of dead bodies piled up in a trailer and an associated video clip describing that the scene appears to be a mop up operation by the Army. Al Jazeera said it is not possible to verify the authenticity of the images obtained from Tamil contacts who have reportedly received them from some one in the Sri Lankan military.
The Sri Lankan government has vehemently rejected the photographs saying that remnants of the LTTE and pro-LTTE forces are attempting to revive the vanquished terrorist organization by bringing false allegations of human right violations against the troops. The government said it has proved that the pictures published by pro-LTTE websites were a fabrication. “The government on previous occasions has denied these pictures. It is improper to suggest that the military was involved in these killings,” the Ministry spokesman has told the Deutsche Press Agency.
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|Some viewers may find the footage in the report disturbingAl Jazeera has obtained photographs that appear to show Sri Lankan army soldiers abusing Tamil civilians in the final days of the Sri Lankan civil war.
The pictures show various graphic scenes, with dead bodies blindfolded and hands bound, shot through the head and mounds of bodies on the back of a farmer’s trailer.
It is claimed that the photos were taken in the closing months of the country’s long-running conflict that ended 18 months ago.
One of the photos shows a line of bodies, including what is believed to be the body of the son of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers, that was defeated in the civil war.
Another photo shows the naked body of a young woman and the body of a boy, perhaps in his early teens.
It is not possible to verify the authenticity of the images that were obtained by Al Jazeera from Tamil contacts who said the photos were handed over by someone from the Sri Lankan military. It is unclear why it has taken so long from them to surface.
The photos came to light just after Gamini Lakshman Peiris, the Sri Lankan minister of external affairs, had visited London to deliver a speech at the International Institute of Strategic Studies. Ethnic Tamil groups had vowed to protest outside the venue.
The Sri Lankan government has always denied allegations of war crimes and promised to take action if it finds evidence of atrocities.
Rajiva Wijesinha, a Sri Lankan MP who is also a former secretary of the country’s human rights ministry, told Al Jazeera that the country has launched an “independent” inquiry into the photos of the alleged massacre.
“We have always said that any allegation will be investigated. We believe that our inquiry going on is perfectly independent.”
But Dr Sam Pari, a spokeswoman for the Australian Tamil Congress, says there has to foreign pressure on the Sri Lankan government to allow an international independent investigation into the atrocity.
“The responsibility of pressuring Sri Lanka to allow an international independent investigation falls upon the international governments that currently deal with Sri Lanka in the form of trade, tourism etc,” she told Al Jazeera in an interview.
“So if these governments start placing trade sanctions and travel bans on Sri Lanka, then Sri Lanka will be forced to allow an international investigation into war crimes.”
In May, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan president, said that his government will not punish the Sri Lankan army for “defeating terrorism”.
“[…] If the international community wants to punish Sri Lanka for defeating terrorism, I’m not for that,” Rajapaksa said.
Sri Lanka has repeatedly rejected international calls for an independent inquiry into the war against the Tamil Tigers, in which the UN estimates at least 7,000 Tamil civilians were killed.
Other estimates suggest the figure could be as high as 20,000 and the inference is that many were killed by government shelling.
Sri Lanka has instead set up its own inquiry called the “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” (LLRC), which critics say is a whitewash.
Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have refused to participate in the inquiry, stating that it does not meet international standards for independent and impartial inquiries.
The human rights organisations say that the new photographic evidence warrants an independent investigation.
Some of the scenery in the photos is similar to that in video material leaked to the international media which seems to show the execution of Tamil Tiger fighters by Sri Lankan soldiers.
Again the Sri Lankan government denied the military carried out the executions, however, after detailed examination, professor Philip Alston, the UN’s former special rapporteur to Sri Lanka, said he believes the video is genuine.
Since the end of the war in May last year, no one from the military has been charged with any offence and no evidence has emerged from the government inquiries. Critics say the Sri Lankan government is writing its own history.
For more than 25 years, the Tamil Tigers waged a secessionist campaign in Sri Lanka that led to it being designated a terrorist organisation by 32 countries.
At one stage in the conflict 300,000 displaced Tamil civilians languished in makeshift camps.
According to the latest figures there are some 35,000 Tamils left in government camps. There are more than two million Tamils estimated to be in Sri Lanka.
Emergency powers are still in force; there is a heavy military presence in Tamil areas and more and more Tamils are leaving the country.