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Lanka facing dangerous propaganda war: Prez

"Now we are confronted with a more dangerous war that is the propaganda war," Rajapaksa told a meeting of political parties.

india Updated: Apr 29, 2006 13:11 IST

Sri Lanka is facing a propaganda war more dangerous than the recent violence in the country, the president said, as newspapers on Saturday accused foreign journalists of biased coverage.

"Now we are confronted with a more dangerous war that is the propaganda war," President Mahinda Rajapaksa told a meeting of political parties late on Friday.

He said the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were trying to portray as "a great crime" the government's response in the face of rebel attacks.

Rajapaksa did not directly mention recent government bombings but the military has said it acted in self-defence on Tuesday by launching air and naval strikes against rebel positions in northeastern Trincomalee district.

Air strikes continued on Wednesday and followed the attempted assassination in Colombo on Tuesday of the nation's army chief.

A woman who had claimed to be pregnant blew herself up beside his car, severely wounding Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka while killing herself and nine others, most of them security personnel.

An 11th person died on Friday from wounds suffered in the attack.

Following the government air strikes, the Tigers issued a statement saying that 40,000 people had been displaced as a result of the bombardments.

Lyndon Jeffels, spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), told the BBC that UN staff could not confirm the figure of 40,000, but it was clear that thousands of people were on the move.

Government spokesman Rohitha Bogollagama later called the 40,000 figure a "gross exaggeration".

"The LTTE said 40,000 people were fleeing and some of the Colombo-based foreign journalists swallowed the lie, hook, line and sinker," The Island newspaper said in a front-page editorial Saturday headlined: "Call girls and call boys of Fourth Estate."

It singled out the BBC and wondered why "irresponsible swashbucklers" are allowed to cover such sensitive matters.

"They have mistaken their mission here for heightening the conflict by lionising Tigers," the privately-owned Island wrote.

The state-owned Daily News headlined its editorial: "The truth slaughtered for Mammon" and accused foreign news agencies and broadcast media of inaccurate coverage in order to make more money.

"Is life in poor countries so cheap that these Western media organizations would not think twice about flouting every conceivable, time-honoured norm in journalism?" the newspaper asked.

In his Friday speech to the political parties, Rajapakse did not directly accuse the media but he said: "LTTE and their sympathizers are launching a large-scale propaganda war to tarnish our image."

The UN refugee agency said Friday the situation in the island's troubled regions was improving.

Up to 8,000 were displaced as a result of bombardments by government forces on Tuesday and Wednesday at Sampur in Trincomalee, the UNHCR said. More than 10,000 others fled their homes after incidents earlier in April, it said.

In Sampur, the LTTE's political chief from Trincomalee, S. Elilan, told AFP 15 people had died in the government strikes and almost 18,000 had been displaced.

The latest violence has severely strained a four-year-old ceasefire.

Sri Lanka's international donors meeting in Oslo on Friday pressed both rebels and the Sri Lankan government to return to negotiations.

Over the past two weeks, at least 85 people have died in bombings, which authorities blamed on the Tigers.

Three decades of ethnic bloodshed in Sri Lanka, where the Tigers are fighting for a Tamil minority homeland, have claimed more than 60,000 lives.

First Published: Apr 29, 2006 13:11 IST