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Transcript- Manik de Silva

13 September 2010

 Mr. Manik de Silva

C.R. de Silva: Before you start Mr. de Silva I wish to thank you on behalf of the Commission for having come over here amidst your very busy schedule and I think knowing you as well as I do that the very candid and very clear presentation that you are going to make is going to be very helpful to us in the formulation of our recommendations.

 Before we start I must outline the procedure that we adopt before this Commission.  Any person making representations before the Commission is entitled to make representations either in camera or in public, and the Commissioners are entitled to ask you questions at the end of your representations that arises from your representations or any matter that is relevant to the Warrant we are entitled to ask you questions, and you are entitled to respond to these questions either in camera or in public – the choice is yours, and nobody else can ask you questions.  That is the procedure that we adopt before this Commission.

 Manik de Silva: Thank you very much gentlemen.  I am here in response to your invitation or summons.  I have no real formal presentation to make, but I would certainly be happy to answer any questions that you may wish to pose to me to the best of my ability. Having said that I would also like to say respectfully that as a journalist I find that the reporting of the proceedings of this Commission sometimes leaves an impression that there has been a certain kind of finger pointing that has happened and that might not be altogether helpful in the public perception of what you gentlemen – all of whom are very well respected in the country – are trying to do on this forum.

 Second thing I would like to say is to go back …

 C.R. de Silva: I think the journalists should take note of what Mr. Manik de Silva says being a very senior journalist, and he has also read the proceedings and he has made certain comments and I think those comments are very relevant and please take note of what Mr. de Silva says.  Sorry …

 Manik de Silva: The second point I wish to say sir is that – Professor Rajiva Wijesinghe also made this point I don’t know whether he expanded on it – but I would remember that when I was at school at Royal College, we were the first generation of students who were educated in the Sinhala medium in that school and although there were streams Sinhalese, Tamil and English, people in their classes were put…people of all three communities were in one class although you split up for various subjects, and this I think was a very useful situation where friends we made of different communities have remained life long friends.  Prior to that at Royal Primary School we had separate Sinhala, Tamil and English streams and (I mean) as a small boy I could remember that there were fights between the Sinhala class and the Tamil class on the lines of Dutugemunu and Elara. So it changed considerably when we went into the…when we came into Royal College and we were put into classes where all communities were represented.

 The other thing is that I would strongly like to recommend to you – I would have brought the papers along but I didn’t have the permission of the author or the compiler to bring it. Mrs. Mangala Moonesinghe is compiling a set of articles written by very eminent people which would be extremely relevant to the matter that you are grappling with and it may be useful if you could invite her to make this available to you. She gave it to me to read and write something about it and I had half a mind to bring it along with me today but I thought that without the permission of the person who gave it to me, it may be inappropriate for me to give that copy to you. So that may be something that you might like to see. Because people like Leelananda de Silva, who was a public servant some time ago; then Susil Siriwardena a lot of people who are knowledgeable about the areas that you are deliberating on have written things and it will be useful if you gentlemen and lady have the time to look at it because I think it would give you a lot of in depth analysis which would be useful.

C.R. de Silva: (Responded to Mr. Silva’s submission but inaudible as the mic had not been switched on)

Manik de Silva: Oh I see. Then you might ask her. Well other than that if you would wish to ask me any questions I would certainly respond to them to the best of my ability.

Q & A:

C.R. de Silva: Now Mr. de Silva, I think as a very senior journalist you would have covered the CFA – that is an area which you would have covered. 

Manik de Silva: Yes.

C.R. de Silva: We would like to know what your views are about the CFA, and why, if the CFA had failed, why it failed?

Manik de Silva: Well basically as I see it, I felt that it was done in a hurry and perhaps the reason for that hurry was the desire to stop the fighting and to that extent the various inputs and the study that should have gone – that should have preceded the signing of the CFA – I felt had not been done and the weaknesses began emerging as we went along, particularly at a point of time I remember very senior Military Officers telling me – off the record – that they were being humiliated by the LTTE building bunkers in front of their camps and there was nothing that they could do about it. So in that sense I think that for reasons of securing peace may be the country paid too big a price with the CFA.

Palihakkara: Mr. de Silva thank you very much for your thoughts. Knowing you as a very senior journalist who has covered the broad waterfront as it were, what in your view should the Government, the 3 communities and the civil society now should do immediately to promote reconciliation especially bearing in mind that the security forces at great cost to them and great cost to some civilians also have now got rid of the LTTE. How to invest this in a sustainable process of reconciliation and development? What are the immediate measures that the Government, the 3 communities, and the civil society should do?

Manik de Silva: I have long held the view that there is really – except in times of great stress – there is no real communal enmity between the people who inhabit this island that even in 1983 (I mean) all of you would be well aware that people of the majority community did their best to protect their friends from the minority communities from attack, and also much lower down if you look at the plantation areas for instance, that very often that there are inter-racial marriages among people working on the estates and the surrounding villages. (I mean) I discovered that quite late in my life but that has been so. So I don’t think that there is any real communal hatred between certainly the Sinhalese and Tamils whom we are thinking of mostly in that way, but I am very, very conscious of the fact that given the fact that we had a 30 year war there is a generation of people who have grown up thinking that the Sinhalese are monsters and that they have only known bombs being dropped and the war situation, and the result has been that the LTTE has been able to brainwash them.

I think that a certain generosity of spirit on how the victims of this conflict are treated would be useful, and I would say that all of us ought to be willing to pay some kind of tax (you know) regardless of our community. Everybody should be willing to pay some kind of tax to fund the measures that need to be done to normalize the lives of people who have suffered from this.

Rohan Perera: Mr. de Silva as a follow up to that last question and your response to that, now there was one view expressed here that the media played an unhelpful role during the peace process where they could have been much more constructive – that was one view.  Now in the present post conflict scenario as we are moving towards reconciliation, as a senior journalist what would be your specific comments, recommendations, as to the role of the media to bring the communities together; promote the cross cultural and ethnic linkages and to heal the wounds of the past?

Manik de Silva: About the media being unhelpful and that point of view that has been expressed, I think you gentlemen would know that there was really no first hand reporting of the war. It was all hearsay. It was not possible for a journalist to go to the theatre of conflict. He had to either go with the permission of the LTTE or he had to go with the Army. So the result was whatever coverage that was done of the war was on hearsay. Either somebody said this or somebody else said that. There was no actual reporting on the ground. Now the newspapers have had correspondents as you know in all parts of the country and there have been correspondents in the north and the east, but people who were living there and reporting events that were occurring there were virtual prisoners of the LTTE, in the sense that if they didn’t report it the way the LTTE wanted it report then they were dead. 

Similarly I think that was also true of the military that when you were there if you wrote something that was perceived as unhelpful or hostile to the military you risked retribution. So that unfortunately was…in the coverage of this war there was very little first person reporting. It was all hearsay kind of reporting – the Military Spokesman said this; Daya Master said that and so on. So now I think that what the media can do in my view is that reconciliation efforts that are proceeding to publicize them, report it objectively and sympathetically, and that perhaps is the one way that the media could help.  But I really think that all the people of this country ought to bear some of the cost of normalizing the lives of the victims of the conflict.

C.R. de Silva: There was a view that was expressed that the reporting – especially the international reporting – of what was taking place was not very accurate and also various unfounded allegations were being leveled against the Armed Forces about human rights violations. On the other hand there were several former LTTE cadres whom we interviewed said that towards the last stages of the war it was the Army – or it was the Armed Forces – that helped them to cross over whilst the LTTE was using them as a human shield, and when they were attempting to cross over they were being shot.  And they also said that the Forces guided them to avoid the mine fields and to traverse a very safe path when they crossed over. 

Now that type of evidence has not been reported locally and internationally. And also this would … if it was reported this would also contribute towards some type of reconciliation for the reason that the Tamil people will also appreciate the fact that the Army played – or the Forces played – a very positive role in saving them.  Now can’t the local press – even now – give correct publicity where some of these unfounded allegations which have been leveled against the Forces can be demolished? And wouldn’t that also contribute to a better understanding of the problem by the people who were really affected by the war?

Manik de Silva: I think in the first instance the points you made could have been avoided to a large degree if correspondents were allowed – they did embed some State media people with the Forces during the final stages of the war – but they did not include the private media or the foreign press with those people. So I think that was a failure on the part of the public relations of the Armed Forces.

The tendency is to…each side has its own interest to look after. Therefore the press would generally tend to question the veracity of the claims of various people. By and large I think it was made abundantly clear both domestically and internationally that the LTTE was in fact holding a human shield. There was no second guessing that. I don’t think anybody would reasonably disbelieve that a human shield was being held and I don’t think that the media at any time tried to say that the LTTE was not holding a human shield. But thereafter there was certain skepticism perhaps cynicism on the part of more the foreign press than the local press that this was a liberation force – that the Sri Lankan military was engaged in a mission of liberation. I think there was overkill on the propaganda on these things.

The main objective of the Armed Forces of the State was to overcome the LTTE.  They would certainly – and I believe from reading both what was reported locally and abroad – I would not believe that no civilian casualties were caused in the final stage of the fighting but I think the Military was mindful about minimizing those casualties but there was no avoiding some casualties and the primary objective was to finish the LTTE off, and therefore I think the Military was willing to inflict or, not inflict but Military did not hold back their operation out of fear of endangering civilians. I think that has come across fairly adequately in the local reporting but in the foreign reporting I would say that the feeling was that the Military was callous about the…what was projected was to hell with the civilians; we have got to finish off the LTTE and we are going to do it regardless of the cost to civilians. So the LTTE propaganda naturally tried to maximize that kind of feeling.

C.R. de Silva: The State Forces, there were no fire zones that were set up and the LTTE was firing at the Forces from these no fire zones whilst the State Forces – there is evidence – did not respond to the attack by the LTTE.  They used their Special Forces to breach the LTTE strongholds within the no fire zones and where they took them on. Now that aspect has not been given publicity locally or by the international press?

Manik de Silva: Well, I think you are right to a large extent in what you say but I would blame the Military for that because of this failure of including both the local and the foreign press with their front line forces and you could easily, as is done in many other countries, have had an arrangement where the numbers could have been controlled (you know) – some kind of pool reporting or something like that – where one fellow is allowed in and he tells everybody else; this is the score; this is what happened; and then they report it. But here no first hand reporting was possible. The State media – the small number of State media people who were embedded – purely reported what the Forces wanted them to report. It was a (I mean) – forgive me for the expression – it was an ‘Ahey Hamuduruwane’ kind of reporting that happened in those circumstances.

So naturally the level of credibility that such reports had…and also there wasn’t all that much of reporting of that aspect from the few people who were there. They merely kept on using words like the liberation forces and so forth.  So I think that if we shot ourselves in the foot I think we did it ourselves where that kind of negative publicity was allowed to be disseminated.

C.R. de Silva: Yes. But now when the Forces were questioned or when the Commanders were questioned, one of them said the fighting was so intense that even the INGOs and the NGOs couldn’t be there. So if that be the case could they have permitted the journalists to be there, because the fighting was so intense towards the last stages of the war?

Manik de Silva: But as I understand it there were a few journalists who were there in fact.

C.R. de Silva: Yes, but did they go into the real theatre of the war or were they housed in camps and could they have gone into the … and seen what was really taking place?

 Manik de Silva:Very probably not. They would have only seen what they were shown. But even in that case some of the…because people who are commanding the Forces are not public relations people and – now some Armies have PR specialists who are well schooled in the art of – shall I say – putting the spin that serves their point of view out. Now unfortunately in our Military I don’t think we have had that kind of public relations skills. But even that little bit the people they had if they did allow some – particularly the international press – some kind of access to the theatre of war which would have been difficult at that stage, perhaps the idea that was floated, particularly abroad, that the Sri Lankan forces were ruthless and totally mindless and uncaring about civilian casualties could have been minimized.

 Hangawatte: Mr. de Silva, first of all thank you very much for being here and sharing your learned statements with us. I have on the same lines…soon after the war ended did the journalists have access? – one.  Two – do journalists have access now to detainees, IDPs, and other affected individuals?

Manik de Silva: Even today journalists cannot go to Jaffna without permission from the security authorities. I don’t know the reason for that. I have 2 foreign interns working with me right now who were very keen on going to Jaffna before they finished their internship and went back to their own countries – in this case the Netherlands and France – and I talked to the authorities who were very forthcoming and said bring a letter and let them come they will be given the permission. This morning when I was in the office I was told by these two girls that when they called on the authority who was going to give them the permission they were told that he has gone to China and he has left no instructions about giving them the permit that was promised. So even now there are certain restrictions on media visits to Jaffna in the sense that permission must be obtained but my understanding is that this permission is fairly easily given.

Hangawatte: In other words what we read both nationally and internationally – the reporting both nationally and internationally – even today either can be biased or based on misinformation as you just said before?

Manik de Silva: Well basically I think the press should be encouraged to visit these areas. The various road blocks that are thrown in their way ought to be removed and…(I mean) just as much as somebody can go and report the Kandy Perahera today, you should permit them to go and visit the IDP camps; to go to Jaffna; write about the ground conditions in Jaffna; make it easy, don’t make it very difficult. Apparently it is easier to fly to Jaffna than to go by bus.

(Question posed by one of the Commissioners without aid of mic – inaudible)

Manik de Silva: It appears to be. (You know) when I talk to somebody about these particular instances I mentioned they were very forthcoming. They said, certainly send them with a letter addressed to the Defence Secretary and we will sort it out, but at the end of it all (you know), I suppose these things happen in any bureaucracy that the person who is giving the permission is not as concerned about it as the person who is seeking the permission so there are these slips. I don’t think…they are not necessarily deliberate but why any kind of restriction should be enforced is something that puzzles me.

Hangawatte: One last question if you don’t mind. If I may now switch to another angle – what Ambassador Palihakkara raised about reconciliation. One of the things that we noticed when we visited detention camps and IDPs etc. most of them, I could say a large number – more than…almost everyone – they complained of the mental anguish based on what they have gone through – even detainees were telling us – that is the hard part; that is the hard part; mentally, mentally they say, and they are being given…they praised the meditation and the other types of therapies that they are offered. However, in addition to that I believe this mental anguish must be wider spread among every community. I am not talking about any one community – even all the 3 major communities. So what would you recommend based on your long years of experience as a journalist especially that the larger society can do to address that and to bring everyone into reintegration and unity?

Manik de Silva: Well I would go back to the suggestion I made that the whole country should pay a tax; that the resources of the State at present alone cannot meet the expenditure that is necessary to successfully do this, and I think all of us owe it to our country to carry a part of that burden and if for instance that the people who are affected feel that the total population is contributing towards ensuring a normal life for them, I think that would be a very useful step forward.

Hangawatte: I appreciate the tax idea but that again puts the responsibility on the State to do whatever has to be done. I am wondering in addition what the communities can do, the community leaders such as you?

Manik de Silva: Well I think various people – NGOs, various people of goodwill – have been doing things. (I mean) I am sure all of you are aware of the kind of work that Mrs. Denzil Kobbekaduwa has been doing silently and she doesn’t seek publicity; it is not reported; but I am personally aware that she does a great deal in the border villages among the people who had to pay a very, very heavy price for this war. So there are a large number of people – mostly some kind of organized effort that is moving in this – and that to go back to what the Chairman mentioned, the media ought to publicize these things and let a wider public know that these things are happening.

Paranagama: But there is already a nation building tax in force.

Manik de Silva: Well there is a nation building tax I know, but I wonder, sir, whether you and I feel that we are paying a nation building tax at any given time. I don’t feel that I am being taxed for nation building. I sometimes might get angry at profligacy with Government funds by various people who control it, but though I am aware of a nation building tax, I don’t have the feeling that I am paying any kind of nation building tax. I don’t know whether this is common to the majority of the people of this country or not but …

Paranagama: Do you doubt that the tax is not going for nation building?

Manik de Silva:I think that it would probably go into the consolidated fund and it would be disbursed like any other fund. I think that Mr. Chanmugam might know a little bit more about it than the rest of you.

 Bafiq: Mr. de Silva, do you think the media, locally and internationally, have highlighted the plight of the Muslims who were driven away from Jaffna within 2 hours, who were compelled to leave their homes; work place and lost their properties and now they are languishing for the last 30 years in camps? Has the media, locally and internationally, have they highlighted their plight and as an experienced journalist what do you suggest to bring reconciliation and to bring them back to their homes?

 Manik de Silva: I think you are quite right sir that there has been insufficient publicity to the fact that Muslims from Jaffna have been living in a refugee camp in Puttalam for almost 30 years. That comes into national focus only at election times because these people who are living in Puttalam are voting for candidates sometimes running from Jaffna, and there is certainly insufficient attention to that but I sometimes also wonder whether when people for a long time live in these refugee camps and are supported by the State, whether they would be willing to lose that support and go back to their original homes unless they are assured that their property and their livelihoods are restored to them very quickly.

 (Question posed by one of the Commissioners without aid of mic – inaudible)

 Manik de Silva: I don’t know sir, I don’t know. I would think that very often other people may well have taken over such properties but I don’t know. I would think that that is the probable scene.

 Paranagama: 55,000 families have fled away from Jaffna and that day it was revealed that only few families have returned, so that Muslim community, I think very few might have returned.

Manik de Silva: I suppose its all a matter of choice.  Do you want to go?  And the chances that you would want to go are if there is something for you to go back to. So (I mean) all of us knew at a point of time that there were a lot of Sinhalese bakers for instance who were doing business in Jaffna. That was a trade for reasons that – I don’t know what the reasons were – but the fact was that there were most bakers in Jaffna in most spacious days were Sinhalese but a man who was ejected 25-30 years ago he is that much older now and whether he would have the ability or want to go and try to rebuild a business in that part of the country I don’t know. I would tend to doubt it.

Paranagama: Now if the normalcy that prevailed prior to war is not achieved then what is the purpose that we went to war and also just got killed? Did we go to war to have the Government writ only? Did we go to war to establish the normalcy that prevailed before the war for everybody who was there to come and live?

Manik de Silva: I think yes. But we must also think that the war did not only result in our soldiers being killed. I think the war resulted in a lot of people – even people who were not involved on one side or the other – being killed. So certainly we must restore normalcy; nobody would dispute that objective which must have the highest priority but how best we can do that I don’t know.

Palihakkara: Mr. de Silva, if the more general trend…2 important components of our Commission’s mandate is prevention of another conflict like this and to that end reconciliation. Now that the terrorist threat has been eliminated at such great cost what in your view, bearing in mind our mandate, what in your view should receive the priority now in the post conflict area to consolidate and invest that achievement in a sustainable process? Is it the development that should receive priority; is it the healing process or is it the constitutional change for power sharing or more down to earth livelihood issues or finally the general improvement in governance all over?  What in your view should be the priority right now?

Manik de Silva: I think it is necessary for those in office to be able to credibly project the view point that there is fairness in dealing with everybody; that there is no second class citizen in this country; that all our citizens are equal and the weak and the wounded certainly deserve more attention than those of us who are whole and able to fend for ourselves. That I think…you have to project a sense of fairness by what you do and that I think is very, very important on the part of “rulers” of this country that everything is……and secondly I think that some priority has necessarily to be given to those who have suffered – the men in the Armed Forces who have died and who have been crippled and maimed; those people as well as other people (civilians)…various people who were caught up in the crossfire. It is now useless engaging in a witch hunt to try to find out whether this person did this and that person did that. What we have to do is to come to grips with the necessity for healing and do whatever we should in that area.       

Hangawatte: Mr. de Silva you made a very good point. Instead of engaging in a witch hunt we should try to bring parties – everybody – together, because nowadays we hear, we read and some even dictate and recommend that there should be accounting – a process of accounting – by accounting one may mean finding wrongdoers, punish wrongdoers – that is one view. But is that or you would rather recommend accounting as account for whatever wrongs and address the grievances in other ways and try to innovate that you bring them together because by punishing etc. may be instead of healing wounds you may make them worse. Is that so?

Manik de Silva: Yes sir, I think in my view I would whole heartedly agree with you that what is more important is not to engage in a witch hunt as I said, and find out who did this and that, but find out how we can accelerate the healing process, and for that I think that the leaders of the country must set the best example in these matters.

Ramanathan: Mr. de Silva as a very senior and a respected journalist how would you in your writings in the newspapers promote reconciliation among the communities – Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim?

Manik de Silva: Well as I said earlier madam in response to the various questions that members of the Commission have asked me, I don’t think that there is any real enmity between the communities in our country that, (I mean) all of you I am sure would from your own personal experiences, you have friends belonging to different communities and you don’t think that I am a Sinhalese, he is a Tamil, somebody else is a Muslim and therefore we are different. So I think, and earlier also I told you, that right down (you know) among the poorest people there has been inter-marriage in the plantation areas all of which shows that there is really no reconciliation between the communities that is necessary – I don’t think. Certainly there is a generation that grew up during the war who certainly in the north would have thought that the Sinhalese are monsters who are dropping bombs on them. Somebody who was born in 1975 would have known nothing but war throughout his life, and to the great cost of this country the LTTE has brain washed them to sustain that belief. So those are things that must be remedied and I don’t know whether the favourable circumstances I outlined…I probably think that is due to the fact that we have English as a link language and we can talk to each other with absolutely no difficulty and understand each other’s point of view. So these are not quick fixes. It will be a long term process where inter action between people of different communities will lead to better relations among them.

C.R. de Silva: On behalf of the Commission I must take this opportunity to thank you for that very frank discussion that you had with the Commission and for the views that you expressed with clarity, and we will certainly take into consideration the views expressed by you in formulating our recommendations.

Thank you.


Manik de Silva: Thank you very much, sir.








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