Marie Colvin British Celebrated Correspondents Detour to Her Destiny.
Marie Catherine Colvin (44) a celebrated American born, London-based British war correspondent, survived assassination attempt on her life, allegedly undertaken by the Sri Lankan government forces, but it is feared that she would loose her eyesight permanently, due to shrapnel injuring her eyes.
Marie Colvin won the British press award last month - "Best Foreign Correspondent" for her coverage of the conflict in Yugoslavia. In December 1999, she was also in the Russian republic covering the Chechnya conflict. Last year, she received the "Courage in Journalism" award from the International Women's Media Foundation, for her behind the lines reporting in Kosova and Chechnya.
Marie Colvin of Britain's "Sunday Times," arrived in Sri Lanka on March 21. She obtained her visa at the Sri Lanka High Commission, London, where she had met the High Commissioner. He arranged an interview for her with the Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lakshman Kadirgamar, on April 4 at 1.00 p.m.
In Sri Lanka, in place strict local press censorship and in the recent past, journalists, lawyers and human rights activists, who have brought to attention of the desperate humanitarian situation of the people in the war-torn North and Easter regions, it is alleged, have either been threatened or killed.
According to "Rapporteurs Sans Frontiers" (Reporters Without Borders-RSF), at least 31 journalists have been killed in Sri Lanka since 1988, whilst practicing their profession. In October last year, the Sri Lanka government acknowledged that, 29 journalists had been assaulted, threatened or harassed during Chandrika Kumaratunga, the Sri Lankan Presidents first mandate, and that 22 of these cases, up to date, have not been solved.
Many religious bodies, parliamentarians, human rights and humanitarian organizations, and also UN Special rapporteurs and working groups have criticized Sri Lanka for its poor Human Rights record and its high-handed attitude towards the economic embargo in the Northern province where Tamils lives.
It is surprising to note of the bold and daring attempt by Marie Colvin to have entered Sri Lanka unnoticed by the Sri Lankan intelligence agencies. She also managed to slip into Vanni a region under the control of the Tamil militants avoiding checkpoints manned by Sri Lankan armed forces, as well as the boarder check point at Vavuniya, the border town 180 km away from the capital city of Colombo.
The visiting journalist Marie Colvin was the first foreign journalist in six years to make a pathway into the war-torn Tamil regions, in particular to the Vanni a sprawling jungle area in the Northern province. During her visit, she met with various people including the political leader of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam-LTTE (a Tamil militant Organization) Thamil Chelvan. Details of whether she managed to meet the Tiger supremo Velupillai Pirapaharan are sketchy.
Later, from Mallawi, a town the Vanni region, Marie Colvin reported to 'The Sunday Times on April 15, giving an on-the-spot account of what she had witnessed under the headline, "Fighting Tigers talk of peace deal". Give below a few excerpts of her report:
"Rather, the LTTE decision to enter the diplomatic water appears to come from a realization that even while they cannot be defeated militarily - neither can they win on the battle field.
"The Vanni region is ringed by the army and navy and under an economic siege. Journalists are banned by the Sri Lankan government from entering.
"...A government employee and a Tamil, his descriptions of his own radicalization were the story of how oppression turns moderates to militants. "I don't want this war," he said. "But before the LTTE, the Tamils were slaughtered. My family was driven from Jaffna and we lost everything. I can't see any other way to win our rights. So I helped them".
"Although the government claims the Tamils Tigers intimidate civilians, there is evidence of extensive popular support in the regions they control. "The Tamils would be all dead, shot up, without these Tigers," said Father Xavier, a parish priest.
"Ministers in Colombo deny there is an economic embargo in Vanni, the Tamil area on the mainland, while checkpoints at the internal border enforce a ban on items ranging from fuel, cement and plastics sheeting to instant noodles and vegetable oil. Even sanitary towels are not allowed - presumably because they can be used to dress wounds.
"Colombo prohibits international aid agencies from distributing food. International aid agencies estimate that 40% of the children in Vanni are undernourished or malnourished."
Marie Colvins article in the Sunday Times, totally contradicted the Sri Lankan governments version that has been carried out for years, and this obviously must have disappointed the government.
Firstly, as Marie Colvin was in the Vanni, she could not attend the appointment with the Minister of Foreign Affairs on April 4. Presumably, Kadirgamar was waiting in Colombo, expecting to give the government's version of the latest developments regarding the ethnic conflict. Secondly, her article, which appeared in the Sunday Times, might have infuriated the government and the article indicated clearly that she was actually in the Vanni.
On Monday 17 April, after two weeks of stay in Vanni, Marie Colvin decided to return to the northern town of Vavuniya, which is held by Sri Lankan army. The government had declared a temporary five-day cease-fire for the Tamil-Sinhala New Year. While Marie Colvin was crossing into Vavuniya - the government troops stationed at Parayanlankulam-Vavuniya opened fire on her. She sustained four shrapnel wounds in her shoulder, thigh, chest and eye. Her lung was bruised and her eye-injury was serious, requiring exploratory surgery in Sri Lanka.
Immediately after the shooting, it is reported that the government went all out to justify the incident. Even the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka did so in public meetings. Despite the trouble taken by the Sri Lankan government to justify the shooting, it is reported that, there is ample evidence to allege that, in fact, this was an attempt on Colvins life.
Since she escaped from the shooting, the government found a pretext to justify the incident, stating that Marie Colvin overstayed her visa in Sri Lanka. Human Rights groups posed a simple question, "Does this mean that anyone who overstays in a country can be shot?"
Journalists are supposed to report the facts and true sufferings caused by wars. Marie Colvin, while on her hospital bed in Sri Lanka said, "I was not there on some sort of sneaky spy mission. I went there because, although it is closed to journalists, talking to the Tamil Tigers and writing about a humanitarian crisis which are important issues".
It is interesting to note that Marie Colvin has covered many conflicts around the world. According to her mother, she even got lost in the Russian republic for three days in December 1999. However, a threat to her life has only been made in Sri Lanka. On Friday 20 April 2001, her colleagues took a wise decision to fly her out of Sri Lanka even with her serious injuries.
From her Manhattan hospital bed, she reported to 'The Sunday Times" of 22 April, "The Sri Lankan government reacted with anger to my presence in the Tamil-held area of the Vanni. It made no apologies for what happened to me!"
Aftermath of the Marie Colvin's incident, the government has urged Sri Lankan embassies to introduce tough visa regulations and to be more "careful and prudent" in recommending visas for foreign journalists intending to travel to Sri Lanka and to visit regions held by the Tamil Separatists.
Sri Lankan Government has also ordered a high level probe to investigate as to how Marie Colvin managed to arrive unnoticed and slip into Vanni avoiding military checkpoints and border security.
Subsequently, Sri Lankan press reported that authorities arrested three Tamil men accused of escorting an American journalist into rebel-held territory in the north. Police alleged that those men received Rupees one hundred thousand fee from Marie Colvin to escort her to Vanni, the area controlled by the Tamil militants.