A film of alleged war crimes … how I became Sri Lanka's most hated man

The reaction of the people I met in Sri Lanka is at odds with the intimidation against me engineered by a despotic government

A film shot in January 200 allegedly shows a Sri Lankan soldier e!ecuting a Tamil Tiger prisoner" #hotograph$ Journalists %or &emocracy'A%#'(etty Images

Callum Macrae- Saturday )* +ovember 20),

They haunt our every move- on their motorbikes in their silver hatchback and on their tuk tuks" Sri Lanka.s intelligence officers are a tenacious lot- but there.s another group perhaps even more tenacious in their pursuit of us$ /spontaneous/- pro0government demonstrators" They were there when the 1hannel 2 news team and I arrived at the airport" They turned up outside our hotel that night 3 and when we set off by train to travel north to the former war 4one- there they were again" There were a few hundred of them with hurriedly written posters- denouncing us as Tamil Tiger supporters" They blockaded our train and eventually forced us to return to 1olombo" So here.s the issue" There are two versions of the situation in the traumatised north0

east of the island- where perhaps 20-000 or even more- innocent Tamil civilians died in the horrific last few months of Sri Lanka.s civil war that lasted a 5uarter of a century" The government and its supporters say the place is transformed$ there are new roadsthey say- new schools- former fighters /rehabilitated/- hotels being built and elections held" 6ut the Tamils who live there tell another story" They speak of continuing misery- of military occupation- of a climate of fear" A place where thousands remain homeless while army land0grabs continue unabated" 7here thousands are still missing 3 and many women who remain are sub8ect to the systematic use of se!ual violence as a weapon of repression" 9f course- the way for 8ournalists to get to the truth is to go there and see for themselves" 6ut despite assurances from the president himself that we would be free to travel- it was not to be: several hundred noisy government supporters made sure of that" That.s the problem for those who would try to hide the truth" If you want to work out which side is telling lies- you 8ust have to work out who is trying to stop you seeing things with your own eyes" ;ere.s a clue$ it wasn.t the Tamils" This meeting of the 1ommonwealth heads of government is rapidly turning into a #< catastrophe for both the government of Sri Lanka and the 1ommonwealth itself" The e!traordinary prospect of a 1ommonwealth committed to core principles of democracyhuman rights and freedom of e!pression being hosted by a government which routinely flouts every one of those values is bad enough" 6ut if this same government is also made the sub8ect of a call by the =+ ;uman <ights 1ouncil for an international investigation into alleged war crimes and alleged crimes against humanity >as might well happen ne!t ?arch@- then this could be terminal for the 1ommonwealth.s credibility" %or Sri Lanka.s president- what he hoped would be the golden chalice of the 1ommonwealth summit is rapidly changing into a poisoned one 3 and the problem is that 1olombo.s supporters blame that process almost entirely on 1hannel 2" In particular- 1hannel 2 +ews and 3 with e!tra- added venom 3 me" 7e were gratified when- in something of a first for international diplomacy- &avid 1ameron tweeted last week that he.d watched my most recent film- +o %ire Aone- broadcast two week ago- and that as a result he had serious 5uestions to ask #resident ?ahinda <a8apaksa about what happened" It was a significant and surprisingly straightforward pledge" The downside is that it didn.t make us any more popular" Bvery night Sri Lankan television carries stories stating 5uite une5uivocally that I am a Tiger supporter" These sentiments are echoed by government spokesmen who suggest I 3 and 1hannel 2 3 are funded by the defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Belam" The fact that we have accused the Tigers- too- of war crimes- of using suicide bombers and targeting civilians- counts for nothing" These wild denunciations are

pretty unpleasant 3 and a direct act of incitement which has inevitably translated into a number of death threats" I am probably the most hated man in Sri Lanka at the moment" I am a celebrity and they want me out of here" 6ut look behind these threats and hysteria 3 beyond the front page banner headlines that read /Bnd of the road for 1allum ?acrae/ and you detect a different current underneath" It was Jonathan ?iller of 1hannel 2 +ews who first noticed it" As a tuk tuk drove past- the passenger inside saw us and gave a furtive- discreet little thumbs0up" Then it happened again" And others- when no one is looking- came up and asked for a photograph with us" It is very clear there are a lot of people in Sri Lanka who are very happy to see their increasingly despotic ruling family coming under pressure"