In U-turn, Sri Lanka revokes war reporting ban

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COLOMBO, Oct 31 (Reuters) Sri Lanka's government overturned today a ban on reporting troop deployments and proposed military operations and arms procurement, just hours after news of the censorship broke.

The ban, which came a week after Tamil Tiger rebels had mounted their biggest suicide operation by land, backed by air strikes, was ordered by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on October 29 and only came to light today.

Officials said the ban was imposed after the government suspended five radio stations belonging to privately owned 'ABC network' on Friday, accusing them of airing a false broadcast about a Tamil Tiger rebel attack on a village in the far south.

The government and the separatist Tigers are locked in a parallel propaganda war as fighting deepens in the latest chapter of a long-running civil war.

''The government has decided to withdraw the gazette,'' Rajapaksa's media secretary Chandrapala Liyanage told Reuters. ''It was because of the irresponsible reporting by ABC this came into effect, to take legal action against those incidents.'' ''But now action has been taken over that incident under the normal laws, and in general the media is acting responsibly, so the president decided there is no need for this gazette.'' The rules had said the media should not ''print, publish, distribute or transmit'' material pertaining to proposed military actions or arms procurements, ''or the deployment of troops or personnel'', among other items.

The gazette notification had said the punishment for any violation of the new regulations would be a ''rigorousimprisonment'' for a maximum 5-year term.

Liyanage said a new gazette notification would be issued nixing the first, which was no longer active.

An estimated 5,000 people have been killed since early lastyear amid near-daily land and sea clashes, ambushes and airstrikes. The death toll since the conflict erupted in 1983 stands at about 70,000.

REUTERS AM ND2150

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