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Cablegate: Ambassador and Ofda Director Visit to Batticaloa, Sri

VZCZCXRO6046
PP RUEHBI RUEHLMC
DE RUEHLM #0854/01 1660546
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 150546Z JUN 07
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6275
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 3209
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 5300
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 0210
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 7193
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 3840
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 1100
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO 3911
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA 1135
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 2997
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 7779
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 5439
RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO 0256
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 2132

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 COLOMBO 000854

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INS AND PRM
STATE ALSO PASS TO USAID
AID/W FOR ANE/SAA
AID/W FOR DCHA/OFDA FOR RTHAYER AND BDEEMER
BANGKOK FOR OFDA TDOLAN
KATHMANDU FOR OFDA WBERGER
USMISSION GENEVA FOR KYLOH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PINS PREF PGOV EAID CE
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR AND OFDA DIRECTOR VISIT TO BATTICALOA, SRI
LANKA

1. (SBU)Summary: On June 4 and 5, Ambassador and USAID Mission
Director joined an OFDA assessment mission led by OFDA Director Ky
Luu to Batticaloa District in eastern Sri Lanka. Also on the mission
were William Berger, OFDA Regional Advisor and John Lee Park, USAID
HA Program Manager. The team assessed the present humanitarian and
human rights situation for current and recently returned Internally
Displaced Persons (IDPs). The delegation visited IDP camps, transit
sites and returnee villages in Batticaloa town and met with
humanitarian agencies active in the district. The mission observed
improvements in the government's handling of IDP resettlement, but
many challenges remain. The Ambassador and OFDA Regional Advisor
presented our key findings and recommendations to the Defense
Secretary and Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights

SIPDIS
(paras 11-12). End Summary

2. (SBU) Sri Lanka now has the largest number of IDPs in Asia due
to the gradual breakdown during 2006 of the cease fire agreement
between the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) and Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE). According to UNHCR, the total number of IDPs in
Sri Lanka as of April 2007 was approximately 600,000, half of them
newly displaced since April 2006. The large-scale conflict-induced
displacement in the East, with 160,000 new IDPs in the Batticaloa
District alone, has focused attention on the GSL's responsibilities
and conduct towards IDPs, particularly with regard to the issue of
voluntary return. In March 2007 the UN publicly criticized the GSL
for reportedly organizing forced and involuntary returns of IDPs in
northern Batticaloa and southern Trincomalee districts. Since then,
the GSL has facilitated the return of two more waves of IDPs,
including the one which this delegation observed, and announced
plans to return all IDPs to their places of origin.

---------------------------------
Meeting with Humanitarian Workers
---------------------------------

3. (SBU) The delegation met with representatives from UNICEF, UNHCR,
Save the Children, WFP, CARE, IOM, NRC, ACF, and ICRC who are active
in the Batticaloa District. Key issues raised include the following:

- WFP's food supplies will run out by the end of July because of
unexpected and continued large IDP influxes and lack of funding;
- All agencies agreed that the GSL has not been able to meet
promises to restore normalcy and basic needs for returnees to
Vakarai, a coastal community north of Batticaloa town;
- UNHCR stated that IDPs have few opportunities to voice issues and
concerns in a constructive manner;
- NGOs expressed difficulty in operating at full capacity due to
government restrictions on access, work permits, and intimidation by
the LTTE-breakaway Karuna group, which operates in GSL-controlled
areas with relative impunity.

--------------------------------------
Visit to Kurukalmadam IDP Transit Site
--------------------------------------

4. (SBU) All IDPs in Batticaloa camps from areas of planned
resettlement must be processed through the Kurukalmadam transit camp
immediately prior to returning to their villages of origin. The
Special Task Force (STF), a police unit that serves a military
function, manages the overall returns process, with the Ministry of
Resettlement providing food and non-food relief items (NFRIs). IDPs
received dry rations sufficient for two weeks and some NFRIs. All
families were required to have a photograph taken by STF prior to
return. The photos, which are to be kept in returnee households, are

COLOMBO 00000854 002 OF 004


intended to help government security forces identify infiltration of
LTTE cadres. IDPs expressed fear that the photos will also restrict
their freedom of movement. The return process to southwest
Batticaloa, in comparison to Vakarai in March 2007, was improved but
still lacked the transparency necessary for IDPs to make
well-informed, voluntary decisions about whether to return,
according to UNHCR.

---------------------------
Visit to Eruvil Thodam Camp
---------------------------

5.(SBU) IDPs from southern Trincomalee District, who predominate at
Eruvil Thodam camp, said their main concern was the possibility of
forced return on June 7 to Sampur, Trincomalee, parts of which have
recently been gazetted by the government as falling within a new
military High Security Zone (HSZ). The IDPs, who are Tamil, said
they were afraid to return because of present security conditions
and feared being put into overcrowded "transit camps" in Kilivetti,
Trincomalee, which border predominantly Sinhalese areas. Prior to
Eruvil IDP camp, most IDPs from this camp had also been displaced in
Vakarai for five months.

6. (SBU) According to UNHCR, transit sites in Trincomalee District
constructed by UNHCR are now either at or over capacity, with high
potential for the influx of spontaneous arrivals from Batticaloa to
continue. No contingency planning has been carried out by the GSL
for the possibility of IDPs in Kilivetti exceeding the capacity of
the transit sites.

------------------------
Visit to Kovilkulam Camp
------------------------

7. (SBU) IDPs at Kovilkulam Camp, Arayampathi Division expressed
concern over their return to Vavunativu and Padipallai because of
ongoing shelling. IDPs had not received any information from the
government on conditions in their villages or on the return process
in general. Furthermore, IDPs complained of insufficient amounts of
food and water and sanitation supplies in the camp.

----------------------------------------
Returnee Sites in SW Batticaloa District
----------------------------------------

8. (SBU) The delegation visited two villages, until recently under
LTTE control, in which IDP returns had begun within the last five
days. Prior to their return, IDPs from these villages had spoken
with USAID/OFDA officials during visits to Batticaloa-area camps and
returnee villages on May 30 and 31. At that time, IDPs expressed
concerns about ongoing shelling and lack of security in their places
of origin, yet said they feared STF retaliation should they refuse
to return. Back in their villages, however, returnees said they were
happy to be home. While claiming that no physical force was used to
induce return, returnees said that the government had not offered
any alternative to return and described a widely held perception
among IDPs that those who stayed behind would be subject to
harassment from the STF and that social support and assistance from
the government would be cut off.

9. (SBU) Few houses and other structures were damaged by recent
shelling of the area by GSL security forces, although most homes
were reportedly looted during the IDPs' absence. Farmers said they
are worried about unexploded ordinance (UXOs) and the slow de-mining

COLOMBO 00000854 003 OF 004


process on cultivatable land preventing them from preparing for the
next planting season. There appears to be freedom of movement in
returnee villages, but STF soldiers advised returnees not to move
outside after dark. Most families are staying in groups, or with
friends and relatives at night because of fear and insecurity.

10. (SBU) The GSL was seen distributing kerosene, NFRIs and palm
leaf roofing material to returnees. Most IDPs stated that security
issues (fear of the STF, abductions, and mines), livelihoods and
sustainable food supply are their main concerns for both the short-
and long-term resettlement period. Most are farmers and won't be
able to plant their paddy fields until August or September with
harvests two to three months after that. The Divisional Secretariat
and public hospitals were functioning; schools were to be re-opened
in a few days, after having been cleaned.

-------------------------------------------
Follow-up meeting with National Authorities
-------------------------------------------

11. (SBU) Following the visit, Ambassador Blake and Regional OFDA
Advisor Berger met with the Consultative Committee for Humanitarian
Assistance, which includes the Secretary for Defense and the
Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights. Based on findings
from the trip, the Ambassador made a series of recommendations, in
line with international principles on IDP return, to which the GSL
has since publicly agreed.

12. (SBU) Ambassador placed special emphasis on the
importance of the GSL allowing access by international NGOs to all
villages where IDPs were being resettled. He noted that such
presence would not only help the government to provide food and
livelihood assistance, it would reassure the IDPs about the security
situation. Ambassador and UN Mission Head Lyons also urged that the
GSL quickly develop a comprehensive plan for providing longer term
livelihood and other assistance for all of the IDPs resettled from
Batticaloa. Such a plan would enable the United Nations and donors
such as the United States to understand what measures the GSL was
preparing to take and where the international community might best
help. Finally, the Ambassador again underscored the need to rein in
the activities of the Karuna Group which continues to disrupt
humanitarian relief activities. We also presented a written
report that included the following recommendations:

- Timelines for the distribution of handouts should be made several
weeks in advance, and go-and-see visits should be arranged in order
to provide necessary information for IDPs to make a well informed
decision;
- UN agencies, INGOs and de-mining agencies should have prior access
to areas of return for security assessments and planning programs
for critical assistance;
- The large presence of STF forces in the process of returns
intimidates and puts pressure on IDPs to return prematurely;
- Short and long term development plans for resettlement should be
shared with returnees and UN/INGOs for coordination and followed
closely on a regular basis.

13. (SBU) In response Minister Samarasinghe and Defense Secretary
Rajapaksa agreed there should be no restrictions on access by
international NGOs to IDPs in the districts of Batticaloa,
Trincomalee and Ampara. Samarasinghe requested that the UN provide
technical assistance to the GSL in developing a long-term plan for
resettled IDPs. Lyons agreed to develop quickly a terms of
reference for GSL approval so that work could begin within two

COLOMBO 00000854 004 OF 004


weeks. Samarasinghe also impressed upon the Secretary of the
Ministry of Resettlement the need for civilians in his Ministry to
take over most functions from the STF so that the military profile
in the resettled areas could be reduced.

-----------
Conclusions
-----------

14. (SBU) Comment: The team found that the INGO and UN agencies
operating in Batticaloa are coordinating and working well despite
the difficult security and political situation. It did not appear
that UN/INGO humanitarian assistance was supporting forced returns
in this area.
Blake

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