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19th September 1999

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The horror of Gonagala: Two mothers wailing in the aftermath
of the massacre of their children.
Pic by J. Weerasekera
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Pre-dawn horror in Ampara

54 killed as LTTE unleashed terror on villagers

Chris Kamalendra reporting from Amparai

The LTTE unleashed an orgy of violence in Ampara yesterday killing 54 civilians men, women and children.

An estimated 75 LTTE cadres hacked, decapitated or stabbed them to death at the 31 Colony, 15 miles from Amparai. Only one civilian was shot dead with a revolver. The dead were made up of 27 men, 17 women and 10 children. At least four were seriously wounded.

Two Sri Lanka Air Force Y-12 aircraft ferried 21 local and foreign journalists from Ratmalana to Amparai. They were later flown in two helicopters to the scene of the tragedy.

A 29-year-old farmer, Herath Mudiyansalege Premasiri, spoke of the gory events that began at his house in Gonagala settlement of 31 Colony. They had been busy last night with friends and relatives for his father's alms-giving. His father had died three months ago in an LTTE attack.

Mr. Premasiri said: "We finished late and went to bed. There were about 15 of us, relatives and friends who came to help us for the alms-giving. I was sleeping alone in my room. Around 2 am I heard a group of people banging on the door. They later broke into the house."

He said he hid under his bed. All others in the household were hacked or stabbed to death. Thereafter, Tiger cadres went to ten neighbouring houses brutally massacaring the occupants.

When that ended, 48 had been killed in the Gonagala settlement.

In one of the households, the main occupant, who was away from home, lived to tell the story. He was a home guard and had been on duty at a checkpoint further away. When he returned home in the morning, he found his pregnant wife, two children, six and eight years old, his father, mother, sister and brother-in-law all hacked to death.

"My wife was to deliver a baby in January," he said as he wept. He said he had now lost his whole family.

The Tiger cadres moved from the Gonagala settlement to two others in the neighbourhood where they killed six four males and two children before making good their exit. Last morning, both the Army and the Special Task Force had launched operations to track down the Tiger group.

Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte, who flew to the scene after a trip to Vavuniya in the company of the Commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force, was mobbed by the villagers who asked "is this the security you are providing us." He assured them that more home guards would be deployed to protect them.

Speaking to the media group later, Minister Ratwatte said the LTTE had carried out this attack due to desperation after being hit by the security forces in the Wanni. "We totally condemn this sort of brutal attacks on innocent civilians. This incident clearly shows that the LTTE is utterly desperate."

Yesterday's attack came just three days after an SLAF sortie over Mullaitivu area reportedly killed 22 civilians and wounded 47. Military spokesman Sunil Tennekoon on Wednesday denied civilians had been attacked. But an ICRC spokesman said the incident had taken place.

In a statement issued yesterday, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, condemned the attack as inhuman and brutal and assured the government would do every- thing possible for the surviving families.

Rana Gosa: retreat or debacle?

Under intense LTTE fire, the Rana Gosa V operation was called off abruptly only hours after it started with troops being told to make a tactical retreat.

The Sunday Times learns that the casualty toll was heavy on both sides. Officially, the Ministry of Defence said 53 troops were killed and 92 seriously wounded. But the main opposition UNP at a news conference on Friday described the operation as a debacle and said it had information that upto 700 troops were injured about 100 of them seriously. Other independent reports also put the casualty toll among security forces closer to 100.

The Sunday Times also learns that military intelligence had warned that LTTE resistance could be very stiff in the areas where Rana Gosa V was launched.

Ministry polluted by Matale misfits, says Mahinda

By Dilrukshi Handunetti

As Sri Lanka marked World Environment Day, a big row has developed between the present environment minister and the former one.

An angry Minister Mahinda Wijesekera is alleging that former minister Nandimitra Ekanayake now chief minister of the Central Province had packed the ministry with more than 50 unqualified on incompetent officials from his constituency of Matale.

The Sunday Times learns that Mr. Wijesekera is also to protest to the President over Mr. Ekanayake's participation in a recent international environment conference without the approval of the new minister.

Environment Ministry source said that most of the Matale officials appointed by Mr. Ekanayake were being paid for doing little or nothing and Mr. Wijesekera was determined to take action against them despite pleas on their behalf by other MPs from the district.

Sources close to Mr. Ekanayake said he had attended the conference because he had sent his name also on the original list when he was a minister and there was no question of any false pretext.

World seminar wants Criminal Defamation out

Two powerful international media organisations the Commonwealth Press Union and the media freedom group Article XIX have called for a series of changes in media laws throughout the world, including the abolition of criminal defamation laws and urged Governments to ensure an impartial judiciary that safeguarded freedom of expression.

The Principles on Freedom of Expression and Defamation that were enunciated after an international Colloquium held in Colombo this week state that criminal defamation laws, including those that provide special protection to the President and other public figures, are unnecessary to protect reputations and should be abolished.

"The threat of criminal sanctions including a suspended sentence with the threat of imprisonment in case of subsequent breach exerts a significant chilling effect on freedom of expression which cannot be justified," the statement added.

The Colloquium was declared open last Wednesday by Abid Hussein, the United National Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion, who referred to Freedom of Expression as the Mother of all Rights and Media Minister Mangala Samarawera who promised to bring in fresh laws governing the media in Sri Lanka by January.

The statement was released jointly by Lindsay Ross, Press Freedom Director of the CPU, Malcolm Smart, Deputy Director of Article XIX and Param Cumaraswamy, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers at a news conference on Friday at the Galadari Hotel.

It also recognised the role of self-regulatory mechanisms in the media, the independence of open access to information, the promotion of accurate reporting, the need for accountability and transparency and the media's obligations to carry on their publishing activities with a view to furthering the public's right to know.

Among the other international participants were journalists and lawyers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Zambia and Britain.

Sri Lanka's participants at the Colloquium included R.K.W. Goonasekera who headed the PA Government's committee on Media Law Reforms, Radhika Coomarswamy, UN Special Rapporteur on the Discrimination of Women, Deepika Udagama, Ruana Rajapakse, Desmond Fernando, Chief of the Human Rights Committee of the Bar Association, academics, publishers, editors and journalists.

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