Pryath Liyanage, head of the BBC’s Sandeshaya, who is a vocal member of a Marxist Trotskyite group, forgetting the BBC’s declared policy of balanced reporting, has been engaged in a media campaign to force Sinhala people of Sri Lanka apologize from the Tamils for what had happened in the island nation during the race riots of July 1983. His editorialised reports more often reflect the principles of irrelevant Marxist groups in Sri Lanka, who sometimes support the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. On his recent campaign to demand an apology he has alleged the Sinhalese do not have “balls” to apologize from the Tamils. An Australian citizen of Sri Lankan origin recently wrote the following letter to the producer of the Sandeshaya. We also publish a letter written by Liyanage on the subject that responded the reply:


Mr. Priyath Liyanage,


Sinhala Program



Dear Mr. Liyanage,

Since you work for the BBC you would have seen one guy who comes on its air waves from time to time saying: “The first rule in journalism is not to let facts spoil a good story.”

Your letter to Devsiri, (July 30, 2003 - copy attached) referring to “Black July” fits into this category. Predictably, you have chosen to paint a version of events which puts the blame on the Sinhala people. Let me hasten to add that like the silent majority in the Sinhala community we condemn unequivocally the violence of the “Sinhala mob” (your words). But in your blinkered view to condemn the Sinhala people you have failed to recognize the vast majority of the Sinhala people who gave refuge to the innocent Tamils attacked by the “Sinhala mob”. To use your terminology, could it be that you lack the “balls” to admit this? Or is it the fear of facts spoiling your good story that plugs your political line?

We can understand the tears you shed for your experiences in Borella. But can we cite a more courageous and moving experience that speaks for the Sinhala conscience than your dry tears. Victor Tennekoon, former judge of the Supreme Court, sheltered 12 Tamils in his house down Flower Road at the height of the “1983” crisis. He did not even allow his servants to go the market fearing that they would leak the information to the rabid mob. He was an old man and the pressure was too much for him. Shortly after that he died of a heart attack. So can you tell us which section of the Sinhalese should apologize? And despite the mea culpas of the Sinhalese, do you think that another apology is going to stop the brutal violence of the LTTE? Or will they use it to justify their latest round of attacks on communities, including the Tamils?

We can cite numerous examples of the Sinhalese giving refuge to the beleaguered Tamils. But then such facts would spoil your story, wouldn’t it Mr. Liyanage? Chaps at the BBC are supposed to balance their stories. So how fair is to for you to equate the irresponsible “mob” mentality to that of a Tamil leadership deliberately pursuing a strategy of ethnic cleansing, eliminating their own people for not toeing the political line, for violating human rights on a mass scale, for denying fundamental rights of all peoples, for war crimes, for forcibly recruiting children to serve as cannon fodder to glorify the one-man rule? If ever you get round to balancing your story, can you also kindly show us a community, including Britain, which has not experienced mob violence?

Second, you say that the Sinhalese do not have the “balls” (your word) to apologize first. We do not want to get involved in this totally irrelevant issue. But you will agree that living in harmony with other communities is living proof of acknowledging past mistakes more than mere ritual apologies. The Sinhalese as a community have proved their tolerance and readiness to forgive and forget by not only refusing to be provoked by Tamil terrorist violence planned deliberately to provoke another “1983” but also by letting the vast majority of the Tamil coexist without letting the past haunt the present. To us this confirms our resilient power to dwell in the ethnic harmony of the historical traditions stretching over thousands of years than to keep on harping on “1983” which is a calculated part of the agenda to divide more than harmonize. Isn’t it better not to repeat “1983” despite the numerous provocations than to make a public apology and go back to “1983”? To you, public apologies may be a big way of showing your “ball/s”. But, seriously, isn’t the return to the “pre-1983” days a positive affirmation of a willingness to coexist in harmony without recriminations, or public beating of chests?

So to us apologizing, either way, is an irrelevant issue. But since you are so concerned about offering public apologies to crimes committed by mobs, don’t you think that the Tamil leadership should first apologise to their own people for incarcerating 4,500 Tamils dissidents in Nazi style concentrations camps, according to UTHR reports, and for killing more Tamils than all other put together, according to Chandrahasan, the son of S. J. V. Chelvanayakam? As you know, 75,000 Muslims were driven out of Jaffna at gun point, after their women were raped, after their husbands were massacred, after their movable properties were robbed and after their immovable properties were taken over by the Tamil Tigers. Who should apologize for this?

We say: Don’t worry about apologizing to us. Apologize to your own people? Apologize to Sithi and Mithran Tiruchelvam? Apologize to Mrs. Amirthalingam? How many programmes would you have run if this was done by the “sole representatives of the Sinhala people”? You are worried about the “Sinhala mob” behaviour. But here’s a Tamil leadership which is deliberately decimating its own Tamil-speaking people. How many programs would you have run if that was done by the Sinhala state or leadership?

Your argument is that apologies depend on who committed the crimes “first” and not on the scale of the crimes. You will remember, in our school days, as little boys, a common excuse that we used to tell our teachers and parents is: “He hit me first so I hit him back.” Is it wrong for us to expect more mature behaviour from those who run programs for the BBC? Besides, if you accept this argument of hitting back when someone hits first where is this vicious cycle going to end?

Consider also this example. If on the spur of the moment, driven by a sudden provocation, a member of your family goes on the rampage what justification is there for others to come in hordes and wipe out your entire family and destroy all that is sacred to you? We can understand tooth for a tooth and an eye for eye. The Sinhalese have paid for it in physical and emotional terms more than what a thousand apologies can pay. But, please, can you tell us why the Tamils, whom you claim should be appeased with apologies, are attacking the non-Sinhalese Muslims and Tamils? What crimes have they committed? Aren’t you encouraging such criminal behaviour by putting the blame on the Sinhala people?

If your serious intention is to present a balanced story, then you should make a clear distinction between what you say is “Sinhala mob” and the “sole representatives of the Tamil people” who claims to be more responsible and moral as protectors of the Tamils. Have you ever paused to balance the “Sinhala mob” violence as against the crimes committed against the Tamil people by the “sole representatives of the Tamils”? Can you also tell us how many “balls” you and the BBC need to consider the hard realities as it exists today and concede that the Tamils find it safer to live with the “Sinhala mob” than their so-called protectors of the Tamils in the north? Don’t believe us on this. Please read the reports of the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) which is the most objective and courageous NGO recording and reporting the violence perpetrated by your political sweet-hearts in the LTTE.

But, of course, these disturbing questions cannot titillate your “balls”, eh Mr. Liyanage? After all, why should you let these facts get in the way of your “balls”, eh Mr. Liyanage?

Ranjith Soysa

Society for Peace Unity and Human Rights of Victoria, Australia.

PS. Even though you may not agree, Tamil Tigers killed many unarmed Sinhala civilians and devastated sites sacred to the Sinhala people. Do you think that Tamil people should apologise to Sinhalese for the crimes committed by Tamil Tigers?

----- Original Message -----

From: Priyath Liyanage

To: 'Sisira Siribaddana & Nipuna Siribaddana' ; Devsiri (Siri ) ; Saroj Pathirana

Cc: Chandana Bandara

Sent: Wednesday, July 30, 2003 5:34 PM

Subject: RE: from Kent

Dear Devsiri,

Thanks for your comments.

I think there is some misunderstanding and a case of selective memory [loss]. We have done programmes and reports on all the killings LTTE had done. We also confronted Tamilselvan in his first interview with us about all the atrocities they had committed against the civilians.

In the context of the Black July, the fault was with the Sinhala mobs. I was living at Borella at the time and was a victim of the Sinhala mob attacks. I understand some of the trauma suffered by the Tamils. But I never experianced the fear they had because none of my family members were hacked or burned. I was also among my own Sinhala people unlike the Tamils.

Taking your point of apology, maybe the Tamils should also apologise, but the Sinhala people may have to apologise first, because they commited the atrocities first then the Tamils might also consider apologising. Even before apologising, we must have the balls to accept what had happened.




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