Two years have gone by since the protracted civil war ended near a bloodied mangrove forest off the northeastern coast. The ``world’s most ruthless terrorists’’ – the regime’s periodic complement to the LTTE when countering damning reports – have been wiped out and new antagonists like the Tiger emnants abroad foisted as destabilising factors. The United Nations, US, UK and Norway have found themselves among top enemies though the only living beings the Scandinavian country is known to harm are fish. India has become Lanka’s, well, `closest’ enemy in some sections of the media, who are selectively, and according to convenience, fed India-related news.
In between all this, the country has gone through two years completely free of fighting or attacks on civilians, unthinkable since 1983.
That brings me to the question about the lack of access for reporters to the battle zones in the north; even to Jaffna town, which last saw fighting in the mid ‘90s. Local journalists have better access but foreign correspondents are routinely denied permission to go beyond Vavuniya, a crowded town in the north.
That a reporter needs a clearance from the defence ministry to travel is problematic in itself; it is compounded when that precious permission is not available. I know of at least four foreign reporters, including myself, waiting for the nod.
Strangely, in 2010, I was allowed to visit the same areas.
During a courteous breakfast meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa in March, we complained about it. Rajapaksa, rather dramatically and at the touch of a button on a cordless phone, summoned an official and instructed him to sort out the matter. The drama turned out to be farce.
So, the second question: what is the government hiding in the north? The Lankan war was known as a `war without witnesses’. Two years later, why is the government still jittery? Is the UN report and its sweeping allegations the reason? Why is it that several areas in Mullaitivu, where the last battle took place, are yet to be released for mine clearance?
Attacks on individual journalists might have gone down in Sri Lanka, but two years after the war the right to report – so crucial to the freedom of expression -- continues to be severely and suspiciously restricted.