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Cablegate: Civil Society Group Expresses Concern About Human

VZCZCXRO5452
PP RUEHBI
DE RUEHLM #0882/01 2620535
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 180535Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8687
INFO RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 3455
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 6263
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 2281
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 8696
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 6118
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 2944
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0806

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 000882

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: CIVIL SOCIETY GROUP EXPRESSES CONCERN ABOUT HUMAN
RIGHTS IN VAVUNIYA AND HUMANITARIAN IMPLICATIONS

1. (SBU) Summary: A Sri Lankan Civil Society Group that
traveled to Vavuniya September 11 and 12 to assess conditions
for establishing a humanitarian hub for internally displaced
persons (IDPs) from the north, reported to Colombo-based
diplomats that an increasing number of abductions,
disappearances, as well as wide-spread extortion in Vavuniya
are likely to further discourage IDPs from moving south. UN
Resident Representative Buhne reported that the departure of
UN staff from Kilinochchi on September 16 prompted virtually
all of the town's 40,000 inhabitants to begin moving north in
anticipation of the onset of hostilities. He reported that
the UN is negotiating with the government to allow UN staff
to accompany WFP convoys into the north and monitor the
distribution of this relief. He said discussions were also
underway about the creation of a possible safe area in the
north. Diplomats agreed Colombo Ambassadors should
coordinate staggered visits to Vavuniya to encourage human
rights improvements there. End Summary.

2. (SBU) The U.S. Embassy hosted a briefing for diplomats on
September 17 to hear a report from a Sri Lankan civil society
team that traveled to Vavuniya on September 11 and 12 to
assess conditions there. Ambassadors and representatives
from the Embassies of Norway, France, Australia, Switzerland,
Canada, Japan, and the EU and well as the UN Representative
attended. The team was led by Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu, the
well regarded Executive Director of the Center for Policy
Alternatives in Colombo. The team plans to request a meeting
with the President to present their findings, before issuing
a public report in the next several days.

Background
----------

3. (SBU) Vavuniya, a district headquarters, is the last
sizeable town in government-controlled territory on the A-9
highway before the crossing point at Omanthai. It is an
important logistical point for the Sri Lankan security
forces. It also straddles Sri Lanka's ethnic divide with
Sinhalese-dominated communities to the south but a Tamil
majority in Vavuniya and northwards.

Deteriorating Human Rights Situation in Vavuniya
--------------------------------------------- --

4. (SBU) The civil society group reported that they had
spoken with a number of civil society, church and other
sources in Vavuniya. All stated their concerns about the
increasing number of human rights violations in Vavuniya as
well as an increase in child recruitment by paramilitary
groups. The group reported that Vavuniya has the highest
concentration of paramilitary groups in the country including
representatives from TELO, PLOTE, TMVP, EPDP and possibly
others. They indicated that in August alone 19 people were
abducted in front of other witnesses, while an additional 24
went missing. The group also reported an unusually high
incidence of torture, particularly among women, apparently as
a tactic to prevent residents either from joining the LTTE or
providing information to them. Extortion also is rampant
with many requests coming by phone from several specific
telephone numbers. The group alleged that there likely is at
least tacit government awareness of these abductions since
many take place near or between check points manned by
government security forces. The group summarized the
situation by saying that the population of Vavuniya is scared
to talk and that the high levels of human rights violations
are likely to discourage IDPs in the north from moving south
to camps that will be set up for them by the Government near
Vavuniya.

Group Doubts IDPs Will Move South
---------------------------------

5. (SBU) Based on their conversations with INGOs and other
people who have recently come from LTTE-controlled areas, the
group expressed doubt that IDPs would move south into

COLOMBO 00000882 002 OF 002


government-controlled areas and stated their concerns about a
possible humanitarian "disaster" in the north. They said
most non-governmental observers in Vavuniya believe the LTTE
will do its best to prevent IDPs from moving south, while the
IDPs fear the government camps will be little more than
detention centers. In addition, the fact that Tamils have
effectively been detained in IDP camps for extended periods
of time does not engender confidence in the Government's
intent. The group urged the diplomats to: a) pressure the
government to allow the World Food Program to accompany food
convoys to the north, and improve the human rights situation
in Vavuniya; (b) encourage GSL to allow freedom of movement
for IDPs currently detained; and (c) pressure both the LTTE
and the government to create safe spaces in the north where
IDPs will not be subject to shelling and can access relief.
Kilinochchi Vacated
---------------------

6. (SBU) UN Resident Representative Buhne told the group
that the UN had been able to evacuate its personnel from
Kilinochchi on September 16. He reported that the departure
of UN staff prompted virtually all 40,000 inhabitants of
Kilinochchi to move north anticipating the onset of
hostilities in the city. He reported that the UN is
negotiating with the government to allow UN staff to
accompany WFP convoys into the north and monitor the
distribution of this relief. He said discussions were also
underway about the creation of a possible safe area in the
north. He cautioned that UN staff with long experience in
Sri Lanka noted the mixed record of safe areas during
fighting in the period between 1995 and 2001.

7. (SBU) The Swiss Ambassador reported that she and her
Canadian colleague plan to visit Vavuniya on September 28.
Ambassador commented that given the serious human rights
problem in Vavuniya and its importance as a new hub for
humanitarian relief it would be wise for other Ambassadors to
plan regular bi-weekly visits to assess conditions on the
ground and to keep the pressure on the government to improve
conditions for human rights and for receiving the IDPs.
Everyone agreed. All Ambassadors reassured the civil society
representatives that diplomats will remain actively engaged
to seek improvements in the human rights situation in
Vavuniya and avert a humanitarian crisis for the IDPs in the
north.

Comment
-------

8. (SBU) Embassy has already raised on numerous occasions
with the Government our concerns about human rights abuses in
Vavuniya, which has been a focus of conflict-related
violations by both sides during several phases of Sri Lanka's
ethnic struggle. This group's report highlights not only the
deterioration of human rights, but also sheds light for the
first time on possible child recruitment in that area.
Embassy will follow up with UNICEF and arrange our own visit
in coordination with other missions to assess first hand
conditions in Vavuniya.
BLAKE

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