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Cablegate: Ngos in Ltte-Controlled Area Brief On Growing

VZCZCXYZ0015
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHLM #0177/01 0511031
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 201031Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7714
INFO RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 5913
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 4260
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 1849
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO 4264
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 3360
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 8340
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0738
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 2622
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI

UNCLAS COLOMBO 000177

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/INS
STATE ALSO PASS TO USAID
AID/W PLEASE PASS USAID/OFDA, USAID/ANE, USAID/CMM
KATHMANDU FOR OFDA REGIONAL ADVISOR WILLIAM BERGER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID PREL PTER CE
SUBJECT: NGOS IN LTTE-CONTROLLED AREA BRIEF ON GROWING
RISKS AND ACCESS PROBLEMS


1. (SBU) Summary: In a February 19 briefing at the EU
Commission for selected Heads of Mission, international NGOs
operating in the northern area of the Vanni still controlled
by the LTTE reported growing constraints on their operations,
including increasing restrictions on access both to and
within the Vanni, growing risk to their staffs as a result of
the Government's intensive air campaign and the LTTE's
location of strategic targets near NGO facilities, and
increasing GSL efforts to tax and limit the visas of INGO
expatriate staff. The INGOs also reported that forced
conscription of INGO local staff by the LTTE has diminished,
the incidence of civilian casualties from the GSL's intense
bombings remains relatively low, while LTTE representatives
remain upbeat about their chances of countering the GSL's
military campaign. The Ambassador and EU Head of Mission
Wilson undertook to raise with appropriate GSL interlocutors
the access, tax and other problems INGOs are experiencing as
a result of GSL actions. End Summary.

2. (SBU) A group of international NGO staff representing 95
percent of the INGOs operating in the LTTE-controlled area of
the Vanni briefed Ambassador, the EU Head of Mission, the
Ambassador of Switzerland, and the Deputy Chiefs of Mission
of India and Norway on February 19 on the growing operational
constraints they face from both the Government of Sri Lanka
and the LTTE.

Access
------

3. (SBU) INGOs reported growing constraints on their access,
both into and within the Vanni. With respect to the movement
of food and other supplies into the Vanni, the GSL has set up
a new check point at Medawachchiya (south of the principal
check point at Omanthai). Effectively, this new check point
means that every vehicle must be offloaded and inspected
twice before entry into the Vanni, thereby slowing down
considerably shipment of essential commodities and supplies.
The government has also limited the number of vehicles that
are allowed through the Omanthai check point to only six to
eight per day. The third problem has been that the local
commanders inspecting vehicles at Omanthai ignore written
approvals issued by relevant GSL agencies in Colombo.

4. (SBU) The INGOs also reported that access within the
Vanni also has diminished considerably. Whereas INGOs
enjoyed relatively free access to most parts of the Vanni in
early 2007, they are now able to travel only on the main
north-south A-9 road, the road east from Killinochchi to
Mullaittivu, and to some limited areas west of Killinochchi.
The INGOs attributed the new restrictions to the significant
fighting that is now occurring between GSL and LTTE forces
along most parts of the southern forward defense line marking
the southern boundary of the LTTE-controlled area.

Risks to INGO Staff From Bombings
---------------------------------

5. (SBU) The INGOs expressed concern about the growing
risks to their staff from the almost daily aerial bombings by
the Sri Lankan Air Force. They noted that while the Air
Force was reasonably accurate in its targeting, LTTE and INGO
offices are intermingled all over Killinochchi so that even
small variances on target accuracy had potentially
devastating impacts for the INGOs. They noted, for example,
that a recent large bomb dropped on an LTTE facility in
Killinochchi had landed only 170 meters from a UN office.
The INGOs and the UN have already provided the GPS
coordinates marking the locations of their facilities in the
north to the Sri Lankan military. They have also taken steps
to establish fallback operational centers in Akkarayan,
southwest of Killinochchi. They complained however that the
LTTE had begun to rebuild in Akkarayan the previously bombed
Voice of Tigers Transmitter Station, presumably to take
advantage of the INGO presence there to shield it from

additional air force bombings.

Growing Visa, Tax and Other Restrictions on INGOs
--------------------------------------------- ----

6. (SBU) The INGOs complained of a host of continuing and
new operational and administrative constraints from the
Government of Sri Lanka. Expatriate INGO staff are
experiencing significant delays in receiving their visas,
while work permits are only being renewed for three month
periods. They were also concerned that for the first time
ever the visa request for an INGO Head of Office (Norwegian
People's Aid) to enter the country was denied. An additional
constraint is that the income tax for expatriate staff will
be increased to 35 percent in April of this year from the
previous level of 15 percent. This will further discourage
expatriates from working in Sri Lanka, which the INGOs
believe is the government's objective. Finally, they
complained of huge Inland Revenue tax bills. INGOs are now
being obliged to pay income tax on all money that is brought
into the country for project implementation. The only
exemptions are for infrastructure development projects in
conflict areas, humanitarian programs related to the tsunami,
medical relief, and rehabilitation for children mentally
harmed by the conflict or the tsunami. One INGO has received
a tax bill of $200,000 for projects implemented in 2005 and
2006; another received a tax bill for $310,000. The
Ambassador and EU Head of Mission Wilson responded that such
revenues should be exempt and undertook to raise this with
the GSL.

7. (SBU) INGOs also expressed concern about an ever
increasing number of requests and demands from the government
for information. For example, the NGO Secretariat recently
requested information on all NGO assets as well as names and
addresses of all staff. The government also established more
than a year ago a Parliamentary Select Committee for the
Investigation of the Operations of NGOs and Their Impact.
While the INGOs have cooperated with the Committee's request
for information they have been dismayed that almost
immediately after meetings with the Committee, information
they have furnished appears in the media in an often biased
and distorted manner. Attempts to correct these distorted
reports only fuel further intimidation and criticism.
Ambassador and Wilson noted they had successfully persuaded
the Coordinating Committee on Humanitarian Affairs (CCHA) to
express publicly in mid-December the government's support for
UN operations and INGO agencies and undertook to continue to
defend the importance of INGO operations in Sri Lanka.

Forced LTTE Conscription of INGO Staff Down
-------------------------------------------

8. (SBU) With respect to the forced recruitment of local
INGO staff by the LTTE the INGOs reported that a total of 51
local staff had been forcibly recruited by the LTTE between
August 2006 and November 2007. Of those, 44 had been
released by the LTTE following representations by the INGOs,
while seven remain conscripted. The INGOs reported that most
of the 44 had been released quite quickly and that forcible
conscription by the LTTE had diminished overall in recent
months.

LTTE Surprisingly Upbeat
------------------------

9. (SBU) Asked about the mood of the population and the
LTTE in the Vanni, the INGO representatives responded that
LTTE representatives were surprisingly "upbeat" about the
LTTE's military prospects. The Ambassador noted this was not
that surprising given reports that the LTTE had inflicted
heavier-than-expected casualties on the government, forcing
GSL leaders to extend their own deadline for defeating the
LTTE until the middle of 2009. INGO representatives
commented that most schools and businesses continue to

operate normally and that lots of supplies appear to be
coming to the Vanni from India, particularly diesel fuel and
some consumer and other goods. They also commented that the
level of civilian casualties from government bombings
continues to be relatively low, considering the intensity of
the bombings.

Presidential Advisor Promises to Ease Check Point Problems
--------------------------------------------- -------------

10. (SBU) Later the same day Ambassador, EU Head of Mission
Wilson and the Norwegian DCM met with Presidential Advisor
Basil Rajapakse to raise concerns about the new check point
at Medawachchiya and the shrinking number of vehicles that
were being inspected each day at Omanthai, from a daily
average of 25-30 vehicles to only 6-8 at present. Such
restrictions could constrain food supplies in the Vanni, they
noted. Rajapakse said that the new check point at
Medawachchiya had been temporarily put in place following the
spike in terrorist attacks by the LTTE prior to the February
4th independence day celebrations. He candidly admitted that
the government had considered canceling the independence day
celebrations, but instead instituted new security measures,
one of which was additional screening of vehicles into and
out of the Vanni. He said he had met with UN Resident
Representative Buhne earlier in the day to discuss this same
issue and had agreed that the UN would provide to the Army
Commander, the Ministry of Defense and Basil, a daily list of
all UN vehicles going through the Omanthai the next day.
Such vehicles would not be subject to the same stringent
security searches, and would not be counted against the daily
allocation of 6-8 vehicles. In addition, all vehicles owned
by the Government Agent of Killinochchi, the Road Development
Authority, and other government agencies would get permanent
passes. The slots for the 6-8 vehicles going into the Vanni
on a daily basis could therefore be allocated mostly to
INGOs. Rajapakse anticipated that the Medawachchiya check
point would be dismantled in approximately one week. He said
he also had instructed the government agent to purchase paddy
in Killinochchi which will reduce the amount of food that
must be imported from the south, ease congestion at the
checkpoints and raise incomes in the north.

Comment
-------

11. (SBU) The new operational and other constraints on INGOs
reflect a combination of operational needs by the GSL and
LTTE to keep INGOs out of conflict areas, a quiet effort by
the Government to diminish the role of INGOs who often are
among the few willing to criticize the GSL, and a growing
campaign against foreign influences spurred by the
nationalist JVP party. The Government has allowed efforts
such as the Parliamentary Select Committee in part because of
its own concerns about INGOs, but also because the GSL needs
the JVP's support in the war effort. The GSL fears the JVP's
power to bring people out on the streets and knows it can do
so anytime because of popular unhappiness about the high rate
of inflation. Embassy will continue to counter this campaign
against INGOs, but anticipates it will get worse as the
conflict intensifies.
BLAKE

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