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DateLine Sunday, 22 April 2007

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Teaming up with common enemy

Certain parties who could not bear the Government's recent military success have teamed up with their common enemy. Perhaps their goals and objectives may differ, but they have one common factor - to eliminate the think tank behind the nation's military success.

This was evident after last week's 'high drama' involving a newspaper editor and the Defence Secretary (DS). In short, it was a mere telephone call by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to Champika Liyanarachchi that was finally blown out of proportion.

It will be interesting to find out the true episode since the so-called media 'movements' and diplomats who make a hue and cry, are even unaware of what had really taken place. All what they now try to point out is a distorted picture and tell the world that the country's Defence Secretary is intimidating a newspaper editor, making it a direct threat to media freedom.

It is a known fact that the editor and the DS are known to each other and had a close rapport, like most other editors who act in a responsible manner in matters concerning national security and the country's territorial integrity.

Hence, Rajapaksa had telephoned Liyanarachchi to explain and clarity two news items -. the situation in Pottuvil and on Internally Displaced persons (IDPs). Though their telephone conversation was interrupted on a couple of occasions, the editor had called back the DS on his mobile. She would have not done so if she had been at the receiving end. The DS was of the view that those reports could harm national security and had requested Liyanarachchi to be more responsible. The DS called the editor a day after the publication of the last news item, after verifying them with security establishments in those areas.

In fact, Rajapaksa had even offered Liyanachchi a chopper with full security to fly to Pottuvil and find out the actual situation.

The DS pointed out that those reports could lead to a Tamil-Muslim conflict in a province where all three communities, including the Sinhalese, have lived in harmony. Highlighting the presence of the Karuna factor, the report hinted that Muslim youth would try to take to weapons.

On the other hand, the newspaper criticisd the Police and its Special Task Force (STF), alleging that they were sleeping when Karuna's men were playing havoc. That was a baseless allegation at a time the STF is doing a commendable job in the East. That is why even Minister Rauff Hakeem too preferred to have STF bodyguards, rather than the men provided to him by the MSD.

The DS also pointed out to Liyanarachchi that the IDPs problem in Mutur had been solved long ago and even representatives of the EU and the UN were impressed with the manner things were handled.

Rajapaksa also pointed out that it was unreasonable to allege that the security personnel were involved in looting. He highlighted the sacrifices that those soldiers make in spending sleepless nights in thick jungles without visiting their loved ones back home for five to six months. Will those brave soldiers who are prepared to make even the supreme sacrifice to protect our Motherland would ever think of looting household items and hide them in jungles?

All these were baseless and ridiculous allegations levelled against an honest and dedicated campaign to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

Had Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa called Editor Liyanarachchi to request a personal favour to seek cover against newspaper campaigns, nobody would approve it. In this instance, the DS did not call a journalist or an editor to boost his image, counter allegations personally against him or to anyone in his family.

But when the media acts in an irresponsible manner, abuse their so-called press freedom, and work for hidden agendas putting the island's national security at great risk, no responsible citizen could shut his eyes. In this case, as the Defence Secretary and a person who has wholeheartedly worked 24 hours a day to secure the nation, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has a great responsibility.

He is a foster father for thousands of security forces personnel who protect our country under trying conditions. They are the people who suffer to give us a better tomorrow and protect our lives as well as Mother Lanka. It is a pity that interested parties, who have been looking for opportunities to gun down the gallant Defence Secretary, made use of Liyanarachchi to sling mud. There are enough and more people here, on the pretext of protecting media freedom and human rights, dip their pens in poison ink to write stories and press releases.

As responsible journalists and media organisations, we would never sell the 'rights' of our press freedom to Western diplomats and political opportunists for a few dollars and a few minutes pleasure.

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