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Did Sampanthan Tell Newspaper about Fonseka Agreeing to Re-merge North and East?

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

The credibility of the controversial story on the ‘conditional support’ extended by the TNA to common presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka quoting R. Sampanthan published in the Sunday Lankadeepa newspaper is now at stake with the sudden resignation of the journalist who wrote the story.

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The story supposedly quoting TNA Leader, R. Sampanthan was written by senior Lankadeepa journalist Dayaseeli Liyanage for the Sunday edition of the newspaper on January 10. The story quoted Sampanthan as saying that the TNA decided to extend its support to the General following his ‘acceptance of several conditions laid down by them,’ which included the re-merger of the North and East Provinces.

Following the controversy that surrounded the story, Liyanage last Tuesday (12) handed in her letter of resignation to the Personnel Manager, Wijeya Newspapers and walked out of office with her personal belongings without even speaking to Sunday Lankadeepa Editor, Ariyananda Dombagahawatte.

Dombagahawatte said that he was unaware of the reasons that compelled Liyanage to resign from office. “Even I have no idea. She had handed in her letter and walked out without giving any reasons,” he said. Liyanage after walking out of the office switched off her phone and distanced herself from the whole sordid saga.

General Fonseka’s camp was quick to allege that it was a conspiracy between the Sunday Lankadeepa newspaper and the government. It was initially alleged that the newspaper’s editor was requested by the government to carry a story on a voice cut given by TNA Parliamentarian Thurairatnasingham to a state media channel. Thurairatnasingham’s statement telecast on TV was about ‘conditions agreed to’ by the General.

The Sunday Lankadeepa had then reportedly decided to carry a story quoting TNA Leader Sampanthan. Soon after the TNA announced its decision to support General Fonseka, Liyanage was asked to interview Sampanthan for a story for the Sunday Lankadeepa newspaper. Liyanage had written the story and handed it to the Editor. However, she was later asked to write a separate front-page story to be carried in the final edition of the newspaper.

Soon after the Sunday Lankadeepa newspaper hit the market, JVP parliamentary group leader and General Fonseka’s co-media spokesperson, Anura Kumara Dissanayake had called Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, SLFP (M) Wing Leader Mangala Samaraweera and General Fonseka to inquire about the story carried in the Sunday Lankadeepa quoting Sampanthan.

Dissanayake had asked Wickremesinghe and Samaraweera if the General had secretly agreed to conditions put forward by the TNA. The Opposition Leader had insisted that the General had neither agreed to any conditions put forward by the TNA nor signed any agreement with the party.

Wickremesinghe had then called Sampanthan, who at the time was in Trincomalee and inquired about the story quoting him in the Sunday Lankadeepa newspaper. Sampanthan had denied giving any interview to the newspaper or making any claim about the re-merger of the north and east.

Wickremesinghe had then called Samaraweera and Dissanayake and informed them that Sampanthan had denied giving an interview to the newspaper.

A call was then made to Wijeya Newspapers Chairman, Ranjith Wijewardene by Wickremesinghe. He had informed Wijewardene that Sampanthan had denied giving an interview to the Sunday Lankadeepa and inquired as to how the story was published in the newspaper quoting the TNA Leader.

Meanwhile, JHU member and Western Provincial Minister Udaya Gammanpila raised the issue about the re-merger of the North and East Provinces as stated by Sampanthan at the Satana political talk show telecast on Sirasa TV on Saturday.

On Monday (11), Liyanage was asked by the newspaper management as to how she interviewed Sampanthan and wrote the story. She had first said that the story was compiled on the comments made by Sampanthan at the TNA press conference held in the parliamentary complex where the decision to support General Fonseka was officially announced.

However, upon being questioned the journalists who were assigned to attend the news conference from the Lankadeepa and Daily Mirror newspapers had said Liyanage had not been present at the press conference.

Liyanage had then said that she interviewed Sampanthan over the telephone. The Wijeya Newspapers management had then inquired into details about the phone call and requested a letter detailing the telephone number she had used to call Sampanthan from office and related details.

She had handed the letter on Monday (11). However, she had later requested for the letter saying she would type it and hand it over.

In a surprise move, on Tuesday (12) morning, Liyanage had walked into office, cleared all her personal belongings and walked out after handing in her resignation letter to the Personnel Manager. Sunday Lankadeepa Editor Dombagahawatte after claiming he had no idea as to what prompted Liyanage to resign from office said there was no controversy over the story.

“Sampanthan has so far not denied the story or sent us a clarification. If there is a mistake in the story it is normal practice to send in a clarification and we carry it,” he said.

As for Wickremesinghe’s discussion with Chairman Wijewardene, Dombagahawatte said — “Why should Wickremesinghe speak on behalf of a story carried about Sampanthan? If there is anything wrong in the story, it is Sampanthan who should speak.”

When asked if there was any recorded evidence to prove the interview had indeed taken place between Liyanage and Sampanthan, Dombagahawatte said there was no tape as the interview was conducted over the telephone. “What I have with me is the hand written copy of the story,” he said.

He added that the story had become a controversy due to the actions of the opposition political parties. He said that it is the opposition that “blew it out of proportion” by talking about it. “When they speak about it, the government also drags the issue,” he noted.

However, Sampanthan when contacted by The Sunday Leader earlier last week said he was wrongly quoted in a story, especially since he had not given any such interview to the newspaper in question. “I did not give any newspaper interviews after the press conference, but I have been wrongly quoted,” he said.

Sampanthan left for India on a short visit on Wednesday (13). It is reliably learnt that he had before leaving the country contacted Wickremesinghe and said he would hold a press conference on the controversial story and the alleged ‘agreement’ reached with General Fonseka upon his return to the country on the 16th.

Wickremesinghe meanwhile when asked about the alleged agreement told The Sunday Leader that an inquiry into the story in the Sunday Lankadeepa had found that Sampanthan had not given any interview to the newspaper. “Sampanthan himself told me that he had not made any such comment to the newspaper,” he said.

He alleged that the story was a plant in the Sunday Lankadeepa and that the newspaper had no explanation to give for it. Wickremesinghe further noted that the story was not about the integrity of the General but of the newspaper.

“The Editor is a member of the Free Media Movement which is against the Press Council. He has defied the Free Media Movement by being in the Press Council after being appointed by the President,” he said.

Responding to allegations of being part of a government conspiracy to plant the story in the Sunday Lankadeepa, Dombagahawatte denied any government involvement when publishing the story. He also denied any involvement in the President’s propaganda campaign as alleged in certain sections of the media. He said that as a member of the Press Council he would ensure that laws detrimental to free media would not be implemented.

Wickremesinghe upon hearing Liyanage’s resignation had once again contacted the head of the newspaper company and stated that the fault of carrying such a newspaper was not with the journalist but the person in-charge of the content of the newspaper. - courtesy: the sunday leader -

7 Comments

The Government knowing that it has lost the vote of the minorities is once again raising the spectre of communalism and the LTTE bogeyman. This may be calculated to win votes but in the process is once again deepening the divide between majority and minority. As such this policy of lies and fabrications will once again damage relations between communities by creating distrust and is harmful to the country. It is significant that the racist NFF headed by Weerawansa has been entrusted with this task.

Posted by: SriLankan | January 17, 2010 10:50 AM

It is unfortunate that the government is attempting to use the media to fuel communal sentiment among the Sinhala masses. Since the state media has almost lost any credibility, their plan seems to be to use popular private media for that purpose (Derana, Lankadeepa). If the opposition camp, General SF and TNA - Sambandan have denied that there is any sort of written agreement or re-merger of the North and East, government's only motivation behind popularizing such an idea is to show that there is a (nonexistent) threat to Sri Lanka's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and thereby to compel people to not vote for the President, in order to prevent any harm to the country. The war was won, but in reality much needs to be done in terms of national reconciliation. Therefore, this is just another exhibition of our zero-sum political culture, where almost always one party opposes accommodating efforts taken by the other party. But, what the government doesn't realize is that by doing so, they are under the risk of losing even the moderate Tamil vote, who may have otherwise had reasons to vote for the President.

Posted by: Nadee | January 17, 2010 05:28 PM

On the day the TNA joined the opposition (according to newspaper report)a press conference was arranged to be held by the Govt. faction at Mahaweli Kendaraya as arranged at 4.00 pm to announce the support of the TNA to the Government. Something happened in the meantime. The TNA did not turn up and they walked away disappointed and possibly boiling within swearing revenge. Soon after it was announced that Sampanthan & Co have extended support to the opposition.

What could be the logical sequece of these events?

It is obvious that the TNA had dialog with both factions on certain issues, presumably trying to extract some advantage from either of the faction, knowing that the minority votes can swing the result of the election. It is possible that the ruling faction had been either evasive or talked tough thinking that they hold all the cards. In any case the TNA would have come to a conclusion that in the absence of any action even after the conclusion of the war by the ruling party towards solving the burning ethinic problem of the country and the other humanitarian problems and also considering the blatant violation of the law of the land it would be more than foolish to hang onto empty promises it would be a way of survival to join the lesser evil and take their chances. Besides, it is more than obvious that the Tamil sentiments ironically are swinging towards the opposition not for the love of Fonseka, but for the hate of atrocities committed by the ruling faction. If they find out that the Tamil community voted against the alliance of the TNA, it would badly expose their bankruptcy.

The ruling faction on the other hand has taken on the issue of an obviously mon-existent agreement of re-merger of North and East and re-emergence of LTTE terrorism only because they are on the other side - the difference between a patriot and traitor in their home made thesaurus!

Posted by: Kingsley | January 17, 2010 09:23 PM

The TNA by supporting the opposition wants revenge for having destroyed their LTTE counterparts.Fonseka and the bankrupt clan will stoop to any level to grab power.All what fonseka needs is power to take revenge from Gotabhaya/mahinda.If sampanthan did not say it why can't he get it corrected with a retraction?.usual practice is the newspaper carries a retraction.Why is he making a statement on the sunday times?.The opposition knows very well that even to make an attempt at winning they need tamil vote.Srilankans who love this nations please be careful and make sure that we still have undivided nation on the 27th.

Posted by: Prince | January 17, 2010 11:30 PM


The General is increasing his lead day by day on REAL issues. Rajapakse’s government is the biggest contributor - galloping inflation, sky-rocketing Cost of Living, a totally collapsed system of law and order with murderers/drug-traffickers/kidnappers/smugglers/kassippu kings some of whom gleefully anointed as Ministers and MPs - running riot with impunity, crime committed by the very guardians of the law etc etc etc., The only way to come back to the fight is to exploit on the usual vulnerability of the large Sinhala voting mass. So the spin-doctors on the ruling clique DISCOVER “a colossal crime against the Sinhala Buddhist Nation” – once again. Cantankerous Weerawansa – whose wife now oscillates between Los Angeles and the 5-star hotels in Colombo before going into residence in her own Palace – is tasked to discredit the General. And so they discover “the letter the General gave to TNA” That Sampanthan and TNA denied it and demanded evidence is all hidden under because they know the Sinhala voter is gullible. To win any major national election here it is necessary to have the “traditional enemy – the Tamil” on the other side. The Sinhala voter will suck into this as natural as can be. But Mangala comes from the other side and knows his tricks too and so he goes to the arbiter of all the nation’s problems – the Malwatta Mahanayaka who now tells the country “General will never do anything against the integrity of the Motherland” Democracy a-la-Lankan style is not party with the best programme being voted in to power. But the party that has the biggest liars and wheeler-dealers who are experts at skullduggery. The winner is decided by who accomplsihes the lowest trickery. As someone says whereas what the country needs today is a race horse to win some are likely to back a donkey.

ISS

Posted by: Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan | January 18, 2010 10:38 AM

The economy, going along well despite the 30 year war, has produced a new "A" list in Colombo. These affluent. English speaking elite who dine at the five star hotels, and do their shopping on line have become a formidable force when added to the traditional old money in Colombo.

These people hate Rajapaksa with passion for Rajapaksa being a Villager in their eyes.The UNP which is the traditional custodians of this "A" list had to organize a do or die battle to topple Rajapaksa.

Along came their Foreign backers ,including the well off Diaspora, with truck loads of Green backs.People like Samaraweera and Somawansa could not resist the temptation of a free and rewarding path to power.Out goes the traditional left leaning "sahodarya" philosophy and the custodian role of the rural poor, and become equal partners with the arch enemy the UNP.

Fonseka who has a big ego and new found hatred towards Rajapaksas for well known reasons, was more than ready to take the opportunity with both hands.He would have signed a pact even with the Devil let alone Sampathan .

In the meantime ,the poor rural Sinhalese who bore the brunt of the damage during the war as well as sacrificed 25000 of their beloved sons for the A list, enjoy their new found freedom of movement and free speech in some quarters.are being treated with contempt by the elite.

I am sure the majority of our Sinhalese people have realized the real reasons behind this grand scheme to rob their once in a life time opportunity, to live in a peaceful, secure and a united country.I hope these poor folks will never forgive the JVP for selling them out.

Posted by: Praveen | January 19, 2010 01:37 AM


Praveen:

Whoever told you Mahinda Rajapakse is a villager. He did his schooling in Colombo - in several schools (Thurstan, Nalanda?) and his sons went - not to a Buddhist school - but to St. Thomas' Mt Lavinia and thence to the elitist game of rugby - where at least the elder boy excelled. They party at night clubs regularly - including with the LTTE in London (as we now see via photographs)
He may not be from the A-team Rajapakses of the Hambantota region like George who went to Royal and whose daughter went to Ladies College. They certainly are not the sarong-clad, betel-chewing villagers who run to the village every week-end. Of course, I am not suggesting anything's wrong with this because everyone hopes to move to the next stage of the social ladder for him and his children. But to romanticise something not real and then make it an instrument to draw in the votes of the gullible is not done.

ISS

Posted by: Il | January 20, 2010 06:33 PM

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