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Cablegate: Ambassador in Sri Lanka's East: Disarm Paramilitary Groups

VZCZCXRO4849
OO RUEHBI RUEHLMC
DE RUEHLM #0113/01 0301120
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 301120Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7623
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 3368
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 5888
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 0718
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 7707
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 4238
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 1807
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO 4247
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA 1240
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 3343
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 8313
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 5808
RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO 0524
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION
INFO RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI//J3/J332/J52//
RHMFIUU/CDRUSARPAC FT SHAFTER HI//APCW/APOP//
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 2603

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 COLOMBO 000113

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INS, PRM, AND S/CRS
STATE ALSO PASS TO USAID
STATE FOR PRM MPITOTTI
AID/W FOR ANE/SA
AID/W FOR DCHA/CMM
AID/W FOR DCHA/FFP
AID/W FOR DCHA/OFDA KLUU, ACONVERY, RTHAYER, JNUTTALL, HSHEPPARD,
SBISWAS
KATHMANDU FOR DCHA/OFDA REGIONAL ADVISOR WBERGER
BANGKOK FOR DCHA/OFDA REGIONAL ADVISOR TDOLAN
USMISSION GENEVA FOR NKYLOH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREF EAID PINS CE
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR IN SRI LANKA'S EAST: DISARM PARAMILITARY GROUPS
BEFORE ELECTIONS

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. Ambassador and AID officer visited Batticaloa in Sri Lanka's
volatile Eastern Province on January 22-24 to attend the opening of
a vocational training center funded by private American donations;
open two USAID funded facilities; and meet with local officials,
donors, and INGO representatives. In public and private remarks
during the visit, the Ambassador called on the Government of Sri
Lanka (GSL) to ensure free and fair elections, particularly by
disarming any group that might use force to intimidate candidates or
voters. The elections, which will be held in nine local councils
formerly under control of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE), will be the first in these areas since 1994. The
Ambassador subsequently met with Defense Secretary Rajapaksa to
brief him on the growing lawlessness in Batticaloa, the concern
there about the increasing potential for pre-election violence, the
need for the GSL to assert control over law and order and prevent
the paramilitaries from threatening and intimidating election
candidates, and the potential for the GSL to demobilize
paramilitaries by offering them vocational training, preferably away
from Batticaloa. End Summary.

-------------------------------
COMPETE WITH WORDS, NOT BULLETS
-------------------------------

2. The Ambassador was the guest of honor at the opening of the
Marvell Sarvodaya Vocational Training Center in Batticaloa, whose
construction was funded by the charity Give2Asia with donations from
private Americans and US companies. The center will provide 3-6
month courses in a broad range of vocational subjects. Given the
location of the event, and its timing during nominations week, some
speakers spoke about the broader development context and upcoming
elections. During his speech, the Ambassador called for free and
fair elections without intimidation by any armed groups. Subsequent
feedback from a wide range Sri Lankans and foreigners alike
confirmed how much people appreciated his message. The Ambassador
also expressed his strong support for vocational training as a way
to improve the lives of people in the East. Although the USG did
not fund this center, vocational training is a key component of USG
support in tsunami- and conflict-affected areas of eastern Sri
Lanka. USAID has funded the construction of more than a dozen
vocational training centers in the east and south since 2005, and
will continue to support vocational training in the east under a new
program that will begin in early 2008.

--------------------------------------
MIXED VIEWS ON LOCAL ELECTIONS IN EAST
--------------------------------------

3. The upcoming local council elections in Batticaloa, expected in
early March, were a main topic on many people's minds. During a
one-week nominating period that ended January 25, five parties and
17 "independent groups" put forward candidates, suggesting wide
participation. However, several parties chose not to participate,
and many of our interlocutors pointed to fears about personal safety
as the reason why. While some people thought elections under any

COLOMBO 00000113 002 OF 004


circumstances would be a positive step, many questioned the wisdom
of holding them at this juncture, particularly given that many
political parties double as armed militant groups. According to one
interlocutor, articulating a common concern: "Everyone is afraid.
No one wants to compete. There will be many killings." Muslim
political leaders expressed concern that their participation would
give credibility to what might become an unfair election, but said
they were planning nonetheless to participate in five of the nine
divisions where there are Muslim constituents. An American Jesuit
who has lived in Batticaloa for sixty years said "we neither want
the election nor are we ready for it," because the presence of armed
political parties will prevent the election from being fair. UN
representatives also expressed doubts about the elections, which one
suggested were being forced on the East by the GSL in Colombo.

------------------------------
LAWLESSNESS, VIOLENCE THREATEN
RECONCILIATION AND ELECTIONS
------------------------------

4. Lack of personal security and lawlessness remain the primary
concerns of most in the East. In addition to undermining the
validity of elections, these factors continue to hinder
reconciliation and a return to normalcy. The LTTE-breakaway Tamil
Makkal Vidudilai Pulihel (TMVP) group, as a perpetrator and target
for violence, continues to be a principal source of this insecurity.
There has been widespread looting by non-uniformed armed men in
Batticaloa with private homes, government offices and donor
warehouses the primary targets. A UN representative said that
shelter materials worth 21 million rupees ($194,444) had been stolen
over the past six months. One local government official suggested
low-level TMVP members were colluding with GSL security forces in
carrying out the burglaries. The continued presence of the TMVP as
an armed group - and the GSL's unwillingness to rein them in - has
worsened the atmosphere of impunity and opened the door for other
armed groups to threaten, rob, and kidnap. One government
representative acknowledged "indiscipline," especially drunkenness,
among police, and he said the GSL planned to bring in 4,000
additional police to Batticaloa District to address security
problems. However, without a more professional police force -
including one which includes Tamil speakers - merely increasing the
size of the force is unlikely to increase trust on the part of the
overwhelmingly Tamil-speaking citizens of Batticaloa District.

-------------------
ELECTION BY THE GUN
-------------------

5. There has already been violence leading up to the March
elections, and most people we spoke to expect things to get worse.
Recognizing its limited popular appeal, the TMVP is reportedly
resorting to violence to compel people, including Muslims, to run
under its banner. Some Muslim politicians accused the GSL of using
armed boys in some villages to intimidate candidates from running
against the ruling party. Many acknowledge that the TMVP is itself
under threat due to limited reinfiltration in the East by the LTTE,
which is confirmed by recent killings of TMVP cadres. Additional
police protection, suggested by the two Muslim political leaders we
met as a way to allow campaigning without arms, is unlikely to work

COLOMBO 00000113 003 OF 004


given the TMVP's distrust of the police.

-----------------------------------
MUSLIMS CONCERNED ABOUT LAND AND SECURITY
-----------------------------------

6. Land and security are at the top of the agenda for Muslims,
according to representatives of the Muslim Peace Council of
Kattankudy and two prominent leaders from the Sri Lanka Muslim
Congress (SLMC) whom the Ambassador met. An SLMC representative
claimed that since 1990 the LTTE had forcibly expropriated nearly
30,000 acres of land titled to Muslims in Batticaloa District alone.
This represents half the total acreage to which Muslims have lost
access during the war, according to a 2003 USAID-funded survey.
Despite the central importance of the land issue, the more immediate
problem for Muslims remains security, both for the elections and in
general. Sectarian violence in the region, which has ebbed and
flowed since 1990, is on the rise again, with the TMVP's advent
contributing to escalating tensions. In a recent incident, five
Muslims were shot and injured after Friday prayers. This was
followed by TMVP allegations that Muslims slaughtered a cow at a
Hindu temple. Although Muslim leaders subsequently went to the
temple to clean up the slaughter, suggesting political will for
coexistence and reconciliation, local government representatives
said deteriorating Muslim-Tamil relations plays into the hands of
the GSL's divide-and-rule strategy in the region.

-------------------------------
OPPORTUNITY MAY BE LOST IF MORE
RESOURCES ARE NOT INVESTED
--------------------------------

7. Meetings with UN and local government representatives underscore
the tremendous investment that is needed in the East just to provide
basic needs such as potable water, transportation, and policing.
Without rapid progress in these and other areas, the GSL will have a
hard time convincing people in the Batticaloa District and in the
East more broadly that the GSL is willing and able to provide a
better life for people in the east. The Ambassador visited several
public buildings that USAID has rebuilt, including an
English-language learning center, the central produce and fish
market of Batticaloa town, and the Batticaloa lighthouse. All three
of these represent livelihoods investments that Batticaloa residents
have needed for decades. Chronic poor maintenance reflects the
decades-long underinvestment and neglect of the Eastern Province's
citizens and public infrastructure, principally due to the conflict,
which was compounded by tsunami damage. In addition to improving
security, the GSL will have to rapidly improve this infrastructure
if it is to prove to the people in the East that they have a
brighter future now that their province is fully under Government
control. These are just a few examples of confidence building
measures are critical to stabilizing the East.

-------
COMMENT
-------

8. While the GSL largely cleared the East of the LTTE in July 2007,
it remains to be seen whether the Government is prepared to support

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recovery and improve security, governance, and economic prospects
for Sri Lankans in the province. Given the slow pace of public
investment in the region's three districts, and ongoing concerns
about security, people in the East have gained few tangible benefits
from their "liberation". Local elections in March, if conducted
freely and fairly, will be a further opportunity for the GSL to
restore faith among people in Batticaloa District. Elections marred
by violence and other improprieties, however, will further discredit
the GSL, while having the effect of slowing recovery,
reconciliation, and development in the East. End Comment.

---------
FOLLOW-UP
---------

9. The Ambassador met on January 25 with Defense Secretary
Rajapaksa to brief him on the Embassy's conclusions and advice.
Ambassador highlighted the growing lawlessness in Batticaloa, the
growing number of extra-judicial killings that now occur on almost a
daily basis and are widely believed to be the work of shadowy groups
armed by GSL military intelligence, and the concern there about the
increasing potential for pre-election violence. He urged that the
GSL assert control over law and order and prevent the paramilitaries
from threatening and intimidating election candidates. He also
underscored the potential for the GSL to demobilize paramilitaries
by offering them vocational training, preferably away from
Batticaloa. The Secretary thanked the Ambassador for his briefing
and acknowledged the GSL needs to do more to assert control over law
and order in the East.

BLAKE

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