By Thilak S. Fernando

UK based Norwegian funded human rights organisation, International Alert (IA), in a surprising move discontinued the services of their Colombo correspondent Fredrica Jansz two weeks ago. This sudden firing is said to be the result of a few articles she filed in newspapers in Norway, other Scandinavian countries and in Sri Lanka exposing the international operations of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Fredrica Jansz, who is said to be a freelancer based in Colombo, predominantly contributing to the Sunday Times, is regarded as a bold journalist who fears not, to call spade a spade, and never misses the opportunity to dip her pen in garlic whenever she has to do it. Her latest articles exposing the LTTE operations seem to have irked International Alert. In a top priority telephone call by an official of the IA from London she has been given the marching orders from her Colombo Correspondent's post and was asked to hand over the keys of the IA office in Wellawatte, down Kinross avenue.

Fredrica Jasnsz has, in the past, published several articles, some of which have been considered as critical of the Sri Lanka government, especially touching on the human rights records of the country and the ongoing Northeast war. In various quarters in London Sri Lankans say it is ironic that when she published articles in a national Sunday broad-sheet in Sri Lanka how the International Alert chose to turn a blind eye and did not either take any action, reprimanded her or advised her to be impartial, yet when tables were turn upside down towards the LTTE international operations, how swiftly and severely they reacted to pounce on their correspondent with open claws to put an end to her contract .

During the international telephone call to Fredrica Jansz , the London official of the International Alert ('Tris') is said to have given the reason for her sacking as being the heavy pressure exerted on them by the LTTE office in London. When she was requested to elaborate on her statement ' Tris' is quoted as saying that the ' The LTTE office in London had strongly protested to the AI that Ms. Jansz's articles were outrageously biased against the LTTE.

This raises a vital question as to where the IA's loyalties lie? The very fact that the journalist's articles, which were critical of the government, had managed to sieve through the deaf ears and blind eyes of the International Alert officials and to take an impartial attitude, what made them to fly off their handle and to take such a rash decision at lightning speed to sack their correspondent ?

Operations like International Alert, Sri Lankans in London say, 'thrive on conflict situations and their daily bread is the misery and conflict situations which affect millions of people across the world, wherever their interest lie'. The prime duty of any international non governmental organisation should be to maintain contact with both sides, wherever there exists a conflict situation, and their function should be a role-model to facilitate peace while drawing a distinctive line between partiality and impartiality, many believe.

When a female Sri Lankan journalist in London spoke to the press officer of the International Alert immediately after the incident of firing their Colombo correspondent (on 26.6.98) the journalist was informed that the officer was not allowed to comment on anything with regard to Fredrica Jansz's case. When asked whether there was anyone else she could speak to on the same matter the response had been, that the General Secretary, Kumar Rupasinghe was out of the country and the Associate Director Martin Honeywell was out of the office at the time. When the Associate Director was contacted the following morning he was quoted as saying that neither he was allowed to comment on anything as the matter was at the time was in the hands of the legal department of the International Alert.

This whole saga has now become a burning issue among the inquisitive Sri Lanka expatriate community where they are probing into the authenticity of the International Alert organisation. Under the given circumstances many say that an international organisation such as the IA to have bowed down to the pressures of the LTTE was very dangerous as they will be easily branded as being either sympathisers of the terrorist organisation or being on the payroll of the LTTE!

This brings up a crucial and a delicate problem to the Regulator of NGOs. Fredrica Jansz issue has become too public in London and the wounds have deepened considerably to the extent that many an impartial mind is seemingly becoming prejudiced against them unless some remedial action is taken by the regulator to diffuse the situation soon.

At the end of the day if any organisation is found to be funded by the LTTE, which is today openly branded as a terrorist group, such organisation(s) is likely to have hidden agendas, which will call for immediate investigation. After all the prime objective of any non governmental organisation is said to be to encourage peace and harmony by whatever means not to fan the fires of hatred or to become an obstacle and a stumbling block for peace.