Cablegate: Media Play: Iraq
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 000519
DEPT FOR INR/R/MR, I/RW, I/REC; PA
SA/INS (FOR JWALLER); SA/PD (LJIRWIN, LSCENSNY,
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO OPRC KMDR OIIP CE
SUBJECT: MEDIA PLAY: IRAQ
REF: COLOMBO 508
1. In reftel we noted that as of mid-week (3/26) the war in
Iraq was receiving substantial front-page treatment but
limited editorial coverage. The trend continued into
Thursday (3/27): the war dominates this morning's front-
page above-the-fold headlines. Again, however, only one of
Sri Lanka's dozen dailies editorializes on the issue.
2. Front-page samples: "US warplanes resume attack on
Republican Guards" and "Busch says Saddam's `day of
reckoning' drawing near" headlined the English dailies.
The Sinhala press used headlines such as "Heaviest fighting
yesterday" and "43 US soldiers dead." The Tamil press said
"big civilian losses in intensified air attacks on
Baghdad," "attack on Iraqi television center," "even after
7 days coalition forces unable to enter Baghdad," and
"uprising of Shia Muslims against Saddam."
3. As on 3/26, however, front-page interest did not make it
to the editorial page. On 3/27 only one of Sri Lanka's
dozen dailies published an editorial regarding the war in
Iraq. Under the headline "Lessons in adversity," the
ISLAND (opposition English daily, islandwide circulation)
spoke of the "Many ... adverse effects of the Iraq War
[that] will be felt by all countries and their economies
... if the war drags on.... Excerpts follow:
"The price of petrol was hiked by Rs. 2 [or 4 percent] from
midnight yesterday. The price of diesel remained static
but that will not keep prices of commodities that are
transported by diesel vehicles static, if we are to go by
the effect of oil price hikes on prices of essential
commodities in the past....
"Yesterday, it was reported that 70 per cent of the tea
offered at the Colombo auctions remained unsold. When
Arabs don't get our tea, our small tea growers ... have to
starve and pray to the gods.
"Many other adverse effects of the Iraq War will be felt by
all countries and their economies will be drastically
affected if the war drags on for a long time.
"The Sri Lanka government can't be blamed, even though
comrades of the JVP and the Opposition PA will try to heap
it all on the government. If blame is to be affixed, then
there are three persons who stand out: Saddam Hussein,
George Bush and Tony Blair.
"Who can help poor nations like Sri Lanka in this crisis?
Pro-Saddam, anti-Americans will say: Go to Bush, he
started it all. But Bush has had to go to Congress to
plead for $75 billion as the cost of the war and associated
expenses. Blair is a poor cousin of Bush whereas Saddam
had been declared bankrupt and insolvent. And even when he
had cash he preferred to bank in the western world and not
give it to the poor Third World.
"Adversity teaches many lessons. In this age where the
glories of globalisation and interdependence of nations
have been dinned into us, it brings home the stark reality
of self-reliance. A nation has to be self-reliant in basic
commodities and the infrastructure that is called for to
provide the needs has to be protected. There are the agro-
economists urging us to give up rice cultivation and other
traditional crops and to go in for cash crops and high
yielding varieties such as genetically manufactured crops.
For all that we will have to depend on the world outside.
If there is a prolonged war over which small countries will
have no control, their only salvation will be in self-
This crisis we hope will awaken us all to the plight of
those people like the humble `goviyas' [farmers] who are
now finding it hard to sell their rice harvest to private
dealers and a very reluctant government. During the last
World War and many years after that Sri Lanka had to import
rice to feed a greater part of the population. We tend to
forget all that. Let it be realised that no nation can
dispense of the people who feed it.