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Cablegate: Gsl Orders All Ingos and Un Out of Vanni For

VZCZCXRO8366
OO RUEHBI
DE RUEHLM #0849/01 2530826
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 090826Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8640
INFO RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 3443
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 6240
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 2250
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 8671
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 6095
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 2920
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0789

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 COLOMBO 000849

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INS AND PRM
STATE ALSO PASS TO USAID
AID/W FOR ANE/SCA
AID/W FOR DCHA/OFDA FOR MHESS, KLUU AND RTHAYER
AID/W FOR DCHA/FFP FOR JDWORKIN AND MNIMMS
BANGKOK FOR DCHA/OFDA REGIONAL ADVISOR WBERGER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREF PHUM PGOV EAID CE
SUBJECT: GSL ORDERS ALL INGOS AND UN OUT OF VANNI FOR
SECURITY REASONS

1. (SBU) Summary: At the September 8 Consultative Committee
of Humanitarian Affairs (CCHA), the Government of Sri Lanka
confirmed that all UN and international NGO expatriate staff
will have to leave the LTTE-controlled areas effective
immediately with their key equipment (vehicles,
communications, computers, etc) due to security reasons. The
ICRC will be allowed to stay because of the GSL's Geneva
Convention obligations. The Government said it was no longer
safe for the UN and INGOs to be in the Vanni and said the
Government Agents (GAs) will now assume responsibility for
distributing all relief to internally displaced persons
(IDPs) in LTTE-controlled areas. The Government of Sri Lanka
will build a major logistics hub in Vavuniya to which the UN
will deliver supplies and the GAs will send trucks to pick it
up. The UN asked for three weeks to implement this
withdrawal; the Government of Sri Lanka did not agree to that
but granted the UN more time. The Ambassador said the INGOs
would have an even more difficult time getting LTTE
permission to remove their assets and urged the Government of
Sri Lanka to be flexible, to which the Defense Secretary
agreed. Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa agreed
to meet on a weekly basis with the 13 INGOs still in the
Vanni and the Ambassador to review humanitarian issues. The
Ambassador and USAID will attend the first meeting on Friday.
The Government of Sri Lanka is confident the GAs will be
able to handle this increased work; the UN and INGOs are
skeptical. Ambassador told the CCHA that if the Government
of Sri Lanka expects IDPs to move South into
Government-controlled areas, it must do a much better job of
reassuring them they will not be mistreated and left to
languish in camps as many IDPs from Mannar still are. Basil
and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa took the point and agreed. Basil
Rajapaksa said a key part of resettling IDPs will be quick
demining in the areas liberated from the LTTE. He
specifically requested U.S. and Japanese help and promised an
assessment of the priority areas soon. In a quick meeting
after the CCHA, UN Resident Representative Buhne flagged to
the Ambassador that with the departure of UN staff from the
Vanni, the UN will no longer be able to monitor the
distribution of food and other relief supplies from the US
and other donors, some portion of which is likely to be
stolen or diverted by the LTTE. The GAs also are likely to
rely on the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization for at least
some help in distributing relief. The US designated the TRO
under E.O. 13224 on November 15, 2007 because of evidence it
acts as a front for facilitating fundraising and procurement
for the LTTE. See action request paragraph 9 for USAID. End
Summary.

All Expats Must Leave LTTE-Controlled Areas
--------------------------------------------- --------

2. (SBU) Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights
Samarasinghe opened the CCHA by briefing on the Government's
decision to ask expatriate staff of the UN and all
international NGOs to relocate themselves and their equipment
(vehicles, computers, etc.) out of LTTE-controlled areas
effective immediately. Samarasinghe said this decision was
taken to ensure the security of UN and INGO expatriate staff.
(Note: the ICRC will be allowed to remain.) He also cited
a GSL intelligence report that indicated the LTTE would soon
ask all INGO staff to work for the LTTE. Samarasinghe
indicated that the Government would consider UN
Representative Buhne's request that UN and ICRC be given
three weeks to relocate their staff and equipment.
Samarasinghe said that the GAs in the Vanni would immediately
assume responsibility for distributing relief to IDPs in the
Vanni. He further indicated that the Government of Sri Lanka
will establish a major hub in Vavuniya where UN and ICRC
relief supplies will be delivered for pickup by trucks
dispatched by the GAs. He stated the Government of Sri
Lanka's commitment to ensure the GAs have whatever they need
to ensure their capacity to deliver needed assistance to
IDPs. He admitted that the Government can't force IDPs to
move south into Government-controlled areas if the IDPs do
not want to move. He concluded by asking Sri Lanka's

COLOMBO 00000849 002 OF 004


international partners to continue their strong humanitarian
support for IDPs in Sri Lanka.

3. (SBU) Ambassador took the opportunity to tell
Samarasinghe, Defense Secretary Rajapaksa, and Presidential
Advisor Basil Rajapaksa that the US Embassy had spoken
earlier in the day with INGO representatives to get their
reaction to the relocation order. He said INGOs had two
categories of concern. First, they were worried about how
food and other relief supplies would be delivered to IDPs
without the assistance of the UN and the other international
NGOs. Second, they asked for flexibility in the timetable
for evacuating their staff and assets since the LTTE would
likely make it as difficult as possible for them to remove
vehicles and other equipment. The Ambassador noted that the
first question had been answered to some extent by the
Minister's presentation, but he requested flexibility on the
timetable for the removal of INGO equipment. Defense
Secretary Rajapaksa acknowledged that the LTTE would put as
many barriers as possible in front of moving equipment.
Basil Rajapaksa said he would be chairing a meeting on
Friday, September 12 with representatives of the 13 INGOs
still in the Vanni to discuss modalities for their orderly
departure. He invited the Ambassador to attend that meeting.

Safehavens and Humanitarian Corridor
-------------------------------------

4. (SBU) A representative of the EC Humanitarian office
asked whether the Government is considering the creation of
safehavens for IDPs in the North and whether it plans to
establish a humanitarian corridor to move relief supplies up
to the North, if the main A9 road is closed due to
hostilities. The Defense Secretary responded that the
Government of Sri Lanka plans to provide assistance to IDPs
around the town of Puttukudiyiruppu (south-east of
Killinocchi). If the A9 is closed the Government will make
use of roads to the East to deliver relief supplies. Seeking
to relieve what he sensed was anxiety and skepticism about
whether the Government and the GAs could take on the full
task of delivering humanitarian assistance to IDPs in the
North, Rajapaksa said that the Government had done a good job
of doing so after liberating the East, and it also managed
capably relief operations for 400,000 who where displaced
from Jaffna in the late 1990's (note: in fact the UN and
international NGOs played a substantial role in providing
relief after the liberation of the East).

5. (SBU) The Japanese Ambassador, whom Samarasinghe has
invited to participate in the CCHA (perhaps because the
Government of Sri Lanka believes Japan will provide a
friendly voice), asserted that the safety of IDPs is
paramount and that the Sri Lankan military must take special
precautions to ensure no civilian casualties. The Defense
Secretary responded that the Government of Sri Lanka takes
great care to avoid civilian casualties. He remarked that
civilians are usually quick to move when military hostilities
near their villages. INGO and UN staff are less quick to
move, perhaps understandably because they want to continue to
provide relief assistance to those in need. This is why the
Government felt compelled to order the relocation of
expatriate staff from the North, he said.

Need To Reassure IDPs About the Treatment They Will Receive
----------------------------------------

6. (SBU) The Ambassador pointed out that if the Government
hopes to establish a major hub in Vavuniya for IDPs they hope
will move South, the Government has to do a better job of
reassuring IDPs about the treatment they will receive. He
said that reports from various sources in the North suggest
that IDPs are reluctant to move South for three reasons:
first, the LTTE goes to great lengths to prevent them from
moving so they can be recruited for military or labor
purposes; second, they want to remain close to their land and
families, some of whom may be fighting for the LTTE; and

COLOMBO 00000849 003 OF 004


third, they genuinely fear the treatment they might receive
at the hands of the Government of Sri Lanka, both in terms of
possible human rights abuses and lengthy quasi-internment in
IDP camps as has been the experience for IDPs from Mannar.
The Defense Secretary and Basil Rajapaksa took the point that
they needed to do a better job of explaining to IDPs they
will not be mistreated and that a good step would be to
resettle those in the Mannar camp. Samarasinghe interjected
that the reason many were still being held was to make sure
they were not sleeper LTTE operatives.

Demining Assistance to be Requested from US and Others
--------------------------------------------- ---

7. (SBU) Basil Rajapaksa said the Government already has
plans underway to improve the road network, irrigation
schemes, and other infrastructure in recently cleared areas,
so that IDPs can be resettled as quickly as possible. He
indicated, however, that a first priority would be to demine
all such areas. He thanked the U.S. and Japanese Governments
for the demining assistance they had provided in Jaffna and
the East and said the Government of Sri Lanka is undertaking
an assessment of demining needs in recently cleared areas in
the north, after which the Government of Sri Lanka will
request new demining assistance from the U.S., Japan and
other countries.

Risk of Diversion by TRO or LTTE
--------------------------------------

8. (SBU) In a brief conversation after the CCHA, UN Resident
Representative Buhne flagged to the Ambassador that with the
departure of UN staff from the Vanni, the UN will no longer
be able to monitor the distribution of food and other relief
supplies from the US and other donors, some portion of which
is likely to be stolen or diverted by the LTTE. He said that
after the UN itself, the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization
(TRO) has the most effective network for distribution of
relief in the Vanni. (Note: The US Treasury Department
designated the TRO under E.O. 13224 on November 15, 2007
because of evidence it acts as a front for facilitating
fundraising and procurement for the LTTE.) Buhne also said
there is a risk that the LTTE could steal or otherwise
impound UN-supplied relief for use by the LTTE. Mission will
look into this issue in more detail, assess how much relief
is likely to be distributed by the TRO or diverted by the
LTTE, and then prepare a cable with recommendations for
Washington.

Action Request
-----------------------

9. Action Request: Request that USAID Food for Peace, and
Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance provide on the ground
support to the Embassy and USAID as soon as possible to
manage and monitor policy and programmatic issues.

Comment
--------------

10. (SBU) The Government of Sri Lanka's decision to evacuate
all expatriate staff from the Vanni is likely to
significantly complicate and delay delivery of assistance to
IDPs in the North. As the Government of Sri Lanka military
moves north, larger numbers of inhabitants will swell the
estimated 65,000 to 85,000 who have already been displaced.
The ability of the GAs to coordinate the massive logistical
effort that will be needed is questionable at best. Without
the UN and INGOs in the Vanni to provide independent
assessments of the humanitarian situation, the LTTE is likely
to try to highlight and possibly exaggerate the humanitarian
problems as much as possible to energize its fundraising
efforts from the diaspora and cast the GSL in the worst light
possible. The GSL now has to defend itself from such charges
without help from the UN. On a positive note, Basil
Rajapaksa acceded to our request to have a weekly meeting to

COLOMBO 00000849 004 OF 004


review the humanitarian situation and assess needs and
responses.
BLAKE

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