Jan 15, 2017

Sri Lanka not ready to screen ‘No Fire Zone’ yet – VIDEO

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera in London said although things relating to good governance have much improved in Sri Lanka after the regime change two years ago, the time hasn’t come yet to screen Channel 4’s ‘No Fire Zone’ documentary, which credibly exposed the horrendous human rights violations, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed largely by the government forces during the final months of the war.

Speaking at the historic Chatham House in London on the ongoing reconciliation process in the island nation, he said on Wednesday that he has seen the film and has his own views about it but refused to reveal what those personal views are.

“I have my personal view on that, but I cannot express it here,” he said when the No Fire Zone film Director Callum Macrae asked him whether he would endorse the film being shown in Sri Lanka.

Minister Samaraweera is the first Sri Lankan minister to publicly admit to have watched the controversial film which is freely available in Sinhala too.

“I have seen the film during the height of all those controversy when he was in Opposition. I did show it on my ipad to many of my activists in my own constituency. I showed to about 25-30 of my key activists at that time. These were battle-hardened and weather-hardened men but when they saw it they cried,” the Foreign Minister said.

“One of them said, could this have really happened in our country. So, I am sure the time will come when the people of Sri Lanka will have an opportunity to see your film,” he said.

When asked where there is any reason for not being able to show it in the country where all these atrocities have been committed on its own citizens, the Minister was cautious about upsetting pro-military Sinhala masses.

“At the moment we really are giving priority to ensure that the new constitution comes into being and we really don’t want to break the camel’s back by introducing a new straw,” Minister Samaraweera said.

“Believe me, we are trying to do something which no government has done before. This is a chance of a life time”.

Responding to questions from the film Director Callum Macrae on the lack of “real progress on the ground” in matters of reconciliation, enforced disappearances, the continued militarisation of the north and the rejection of UN resolution “in effect”, Minister Samaraweera said that the government was “confronting all these problems on a daily basis” and has taken steps to solve them.

“The reconciliation process has not achieved all its objectives but within the short period of 18 months have made a remarkable difference in the north,” he replied.

He said that the things were “not 100 percent as they ought to be”, but the government has released over three thousand acres of private lands held by the military in the Jaffna peninsula alone.

Minister Samaraweera also said that the government looked to release all the lands currently held by the military to the “rightful owners” before the end of this year.

On the militarisation of the north, he said “although the army is still there, the number is much less and things are much more different than what it was” during Callum’s visit to Sri Lanka in November 2013.

“In fact, I would like to invite you visit Sri Lanka and believe me, you will get a wonderful welcome. You can go anywhere you like and you won’t have people shadowing you and following you or even disrupt your train ride to Jaffna,” Minister Samaraweera said.

Film Director Macrae told Ceylon News that he would be pleased to accept the Foreign Minister’s invitation and visit Sri Lanka.

“I would be delighted to visit Sri Lanka, when I hope I can show No Fire Zone on state TV and I’d be pleased to take part in a live debate after it was shown,” he said.

“This would be a perfect time to visit, show the film and help the country moving towards genuine reconciliation and lasting peace for its citizens. Now that the accuracy of the film has been demonstrated over and over again, showing it can only help reconciliation. No-one has anything to fear from the truth, except the guilty.”

The film, which has won several international awards and taken around the world as part of a call to international justice, was also nominated for the Emmy Award in 2014. It was also firmed at UNHRC in Geneva in March 2013.

The Sinhala version of the extraordinary investigative documentary was launched in London when President Sirisena was in London in March 2015.

Deposed Rajapaksa regime banned the film in Sri Lanka, but the releasing of the Sinhala version inevitably has posed a direct challenge to the Sirisena government over its commitment to a free media.