Media under siege in Sri Lanka

The Committee to Protect Journalists protested the arrest of Tamil-language newspaper editor Nadesapillai Vidyatharan in Sri Lanka Feb. 26, calling it part of a pattern of repression of media outlets critical of the government. Officials said he was arrested in connection with the Feb. 20 air raid by Tamil Tiger rebels on the capital, Colombo. Vidyatharan, editor of the Sudar Oli Tamil daily, was detained while attending a funeral in Colombo. Police first reported he was abducted but later admitted he had been arrested.

The Tamil Tigers claimed responsibility for the night air raid on Colombo that left at least two dead and 50 injured. The two-light wing aircraft were on a suicide mission, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said in an Internet statement. The communique said two men from the LTTE’s “Black Air Tiger” suicide squad piloted the two light aircraft that carried out the attack on the headquarters of the Inland Revenue department, causing a huge explosion.

Sri Lanka is fast becoming one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Last month, a prominent newspaper editor critical of the war with LTTE was killed by gunmen. A private TV station was attacked by a group of armed men, and another editor was stabbed. The government has condemned the attacks and says investigations are continuing, but international media rights groups say that often no-one is brought to justice in such cases.

Meanwhile, government troops have entered deeper into Tiger-held territory in the north, the military says. Soldiers entered Puthukkudiyiruppu, the last town under rebel control, on Feb. 24 and fierce fighting is reported in the area. Puthukkudiyiruppu is on a narrow strip of land in the northeast still controlled by the LTTE. The military says if the town falls, the rebels will be confined to a small coastal strip consisting of a few villages and a patch of jungle. Tens of thousands of civilians remain in the area, and journalists are barred from the conflict zone.

About 70,000 people have died over the past 25 years in the LTTE’s struggle for an independent Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka’s northeast. (BBC News, Feb. 27; IANS, Feb. 21)

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