COLOMBO, SRI LANKA, OCT. 23 -- Daily, as the Indian military offensive against the Sri Lankan Tamil stronghold in Jaffna drags on, a sari-draped Indian diplomat meets with the press here in the national capital to give the official version of the state of the war in the north.
With a big map of Jaffna behind her in a small auditorium of the Indian High Commission, or embassy, spokeswoman Laxmi Puri doles out most of what the world hears and reads about the Indian military campaign in the north.
Nicknamed by participants "the 5 o'clock follies" in honor of those fantasy-ridden military briefings of another age, another war, Puri's briefings increasingly have taken on an Alice-in-Wonderland quality as the Indian military campaign approaches the end of its second week.
Alternating between charm and superciliousness, Puri accepts no version of events here but her own. Accounts from refugees streaming out of the war zone that do not match her version are frequently labeled as "blatant lies" or "disinformation" put out by the Indian forces' opponents, the Tamil Tigers.
With most of its 20,000-man Sri Lanka force fighting in the island's northern region, India thus far has barred access to journalists to their area of operations. They are scheduled to escort a group of journalists there on Saturday for the first time. Until now, with the countryside leading to Jaffna sown with mines and boobytraps, only the most intrepid -- or foolhardy -- journalist has dared to try to reach the area on his own.
The lone western journalist who did make the harrowing trip to Jaffna was Phil Jones of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Finding his way by chance to a Tamil Tiger camp south of the Jaffna Peninsula, he and two Sri Lankan journalists were invited to go with guerrillas on a resupply mission to Jaffna City.
But it turned out the guerrillas' vehicles for crossing the jungle were two tractors. To make the arduous all-night trip to the peninsula, the journalists were lashed by rope to the tractors to keep them from falling off in the dark. After reaching Jaffna, they reported the situation was not at all as described by Puri back in Colombo.
Jones brought out news of at least one apparent Indian atrocity in which 40 civilians allegedly were killed near Jaffna University Oct. 13, the same day 29 Indian commandos were cut down by guerrillas after landing by helicopter on the same campus.
When Jones asked Puri for an explanation, she smiled and said: "Of course, you were under escort by the Tigers, so what you were presented with was no doubt another example of Tiger disinformation."