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Cablegate: Humanitarian Situation in Sri Lanka's Northern Province:

VZCZCXYZ0002
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHLM #0883/01 2620616
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 180616Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8689
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK PRIORITY 3457
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 6265
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 2283
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 2946
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0808
INFO RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI//J332/J52//
RHMFIUU/CDRUSARPAC FT SHAFTER HI//APCW/APOP//

UNCLAS COLOMBO 000883

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

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 DCHA/OFDA REGIONAL ADVISOR WBERGER
USMISSION GENEVA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID PREF PGOV PHUM CE

SUBJECT: HUMANITARIAN SITUATION IN SRI LANKA'S NORTHERN PROVINCE:
UPDATE AND THINKING ABOUT THE FUTURE

1. (U) Summary: As the Sri Lankan military makes headway into the
Northern Province, UN Agencies and INGOs have been requested by the
Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) to pull back to Vavuniya as their
safety and security cannot be guaranteed. As a result, the security
and humanitarian situation for civilians has become precarious. The
Ambassador, who already attends monthly Consultative Committee on
Humanitarian Assistance (CCHA) meetings, will begin to attend weekly
CCHA meetings to focus on the situation in the Vanni, the jungle
area north of Vavuniya. Meanwhile, USAID is engaged in meetings
with UN agencies, ICRC and INGO partners in Colombo but additional
assistance will be needed from USAID and State to further assess the
situation on the ground and to inform Post's decisions with regard
to the best interventions for USG support. End Summary.

BACKGROUND: GSL STAGING FOR AN ASSAULT
---------------------------------------

2. (SBU) The conflict between the military and the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has reached new heights in Sri Lanka's
North, by all accounts, with mounting pressure in the Vanni region
and the announcement by the GSL that the safety of agencies can no
longer be guaranteed. According to UN sources, fierce fighting has
been reported in several areas of the southeastern forward defense
line in the Mullaitivu District and along the A32 Mannar-Pooneryn
road in Kilinochchi, while an increasing number of air strikes and
aerial bombardments also took place - resulting in more population
movements further into the Vanni. The UN reports that the latest
displacement took place out of Kilinochchi's Puthumurippu and
surrounding Uttupulam and Konavil areas and along the coastal areas
of Mullaitivu's Maritime Pattu division.

3. (SBU) Restrictions in movement are severely impeding the ability
of UN agencies to gather information; however, it is estimated that
more than 17,000 families (67,600 persons) have fled their homes in
the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu Districts since military operations
were stepped up at the end of June 2008. The UN reports that some
internally displaced families are receiving some support in several
divisions of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu Districts, while many others
have been forced to move several times to escape ground battles and
shelling along the shifting frontlines. According to GSL and UN
estimates, with the recent movements, there are now more than 40,000
newly displaced families (160,000) in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu
Districts since April 2006.

4. (SBU) As the hostilities close in on the LTTE heartland, and
following recent statements by the GSL that the safety of
humanitarian workers can no longer be guaranteed, UN agencies are
now relocating out of the Vanni. Last week, shells landed
approximately one kilometer from the World Food Program (WFP)
compound. As a result, all UN/INGO movements from Omanthai into the
Vanni were halted following a GSL directive. Subsequently a curfew
was imposed while UN movements out of Kilinochchi city were also
restricted. The relocation process is set to be complete by
September 20, 2008, after which possibly only two local UN senior
staff will remain in Kilinochchi as liaison officers.

IMPEDIMENTS TO DELIVERY OF
HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE
-------------------------

5. (SBU) UN agencies and their NGO and INGO partners were notified
on September 8 that they had until September 17 to evacuate the
Vanni, as the GSL could no longer ensure their safety. The UN
agencies are working on a personnel and equipment draw down which
has all staff leaving by September 17, except for the two liaison
officers and the heads of offices, who would remain until September
20 to support national staff who are unable to leave. These dates
are subject to change as there have been some difficulties for the
UN with the move. People in the area have been protesting and
holding up the convoys in Kilinochchi city. Thus far, the UN has
been unsuccessful in negotiating safe passage out of the Vanni from
the LTTE for their national staff and dependents who are from the
Vanni. The UN's position is that all of their staff, international
and local, should be treated as international representatives of the

UN. The LTTE has instituted a pass system whereby Vanni residents
need to receive a pass to leave LTTE controlled areas. Receipt of
the pass is dependent upon the individual leaving with the LTTE the
name of a resident family member who would guarantee that
individual's return. The UN local staff who have not received
passes either do not want to leave the name of a family member with
the LTTE or they are not willing to leave behind family at all.
While some local UN staff resident in the Vanni have left through
this pass system, UNOCHA stated that there remain fewer than 30
staff with 80 dependents. If they are still unable to depart the
Vanni by September 17, those staff will be given a letter on UN
letterhead stating they are UN staff and should be guaranteed safe
passage out of the Vanni. The Ambassador and the USAID Mission
Director met with the GSL on September 12 to discuss the situation
and to work together to ensure the IDPs who are unable to move from
the area will continue to receive food, shelter and support. There
are currently approximately 160,000 IDPs in the Kilinochchi area who
are unable to move freely to a safer area.

6. (SBU) WFP operating in the Vanni has food stores and supplies
that will be left behind during the evacuation. The current plan is
for the GSL Government Agent (GA) in the Vanni to take over the
stocks and continue to disburse the supplies to the internally
displaced persons (IDPs). The GSL stated that it is capable of
delivering and monitoring this assistance because he had done so in
the East (note: it was mainly UN agencies, and their partner INGOs,
and the ICRC who delivered the assistance to the East). While the
WFP has commodities both from USAID's Food for Peace Program (FFP),
as well as from other donors, 80 percent of the rice needed is
purchased on the local market in the Vanni. UN Agencies, however,
report that an estimated thirty percent of the rice-producing areas
in the Vanni are no longer accessible as a result of the conflict.


7. (SBU) The ICRC will continue working in the Vanni from either
Kilinochchi or Puthukkudiyiruppu (PTK), with the approval of the
GSL. The ICRC may be forced to leave Kilinochchi for its own
safety; however, the ICRC is still discussing this with the GSL.
Currently, the Red Cross is operational in Kilinochchi, PTK,
Omanthai and Vavuniya. The ICRC checks with both the GSL and LTTE
daily on movements to ensure its employees safety. World Vision is
currently still providing water to 3,000 IDPs in Kilinochchi within
a 4 kilometer radius of the city. World Vision is unsure how long
supplies will last and whether it will continue to stay in the
Kilinochchi area for as long as possible -- in spite of GSL requests
to the contrary.

8. (SBU) Protection of IDPs: UNHCR reports that it is deeply
concerned about the safety of the general population, including the
many displaced families in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu Districts.
UNHCR is urging both the GSL and the LTTE to take every possible
measure to safeguard and provide them with safe passage out of the
Vanni. UNHCR reports that restrictions continue on the
transportation of humanitarian supplies into the Vanni. Further
restrictions, particularly on shelter materials, are expected in
light of the GSL's concerns regarding LTTE appropriation of
materials and the GSL's plans to evacuate the civilian population.
UNHCR continues to advocate with the GSL to ease restrictions on the
transportation of humanitarian materials to the Vanni.

9. (SBU) UNHCR reports that IDPs moving into the Kilinochchi
District are living in schools and other public buildings. Many
buildings are full and a large number of families are living in the
open under trees. Displacement is causing financial strain on many
families with reports of families selling assistance to pay for
transport to safer places. The Ambassador and USAID Mission
Director met with President Rajapaksa's senior advisor, Basil
Rajapaksa, on September 12 to discuss USG concerns over the plight
of the IDPs and to deliver the news that unless the WFP is able to
monitor the commodities from FFP, future U.S. shipments of
commodities for the Vanni are in jeopardy.

USG COUNTRY TEAM SCENARIO PLANNING
----------------------------------


10. (SBU) Post (including State, USAID and DOD representatives) is
developing a three-phase plan of possible USG-supported
interventions and resources to address the plight of the IDPs in the
Vanni in the short-, medium- and long-term. Phase 1 (short-term) is
for immediate emergency relief intervention. Some current resources
are identified at Post, but additional resources will be needed from
other USG sources. Post continues to stay in constant contact with
other donors, UN agencies, ICRC, and INGOs to coordinate resources
and to share information. Depending on how the fighting in the
Vanni develops, phase 1 could take place over the next 6 to 8
months. Post's desktop review of phase 1 needs, which need to be
reviewed by OFDA, FFP, and State/PRM, include: a review of the food
stocks and future needs for the Vanni under various planning
scenarios, demining funding, cash for work programs and additional
support to the UN Common Humanitarian Assistance Program (UNCHAP)
for water and sanitation, protection, psychosocial services, and
temporary shelter.

11. Phases 2 and 3 address stabilization (e.g., protection,
livelihoods - especially for women headed households,
disarmament/demobilization/reintegration, civilian-military
relations, health and education services, small scale
infrastructure, among other areas) and sustainable development
(e.g., long term agriculture growth, private sector investment,
infrastructure, reintegration, local government technical
assistance, among other areas), respectively. Post will also pursue
assistance for those resources once phase 1 is underway. There is
expected to be some overlap in the phases, as we have witnessed in
the East, with water and sanitation, livelihoods (especially for
households headed by women) and protection work still needed.

ACTION REQUESTED
----------------

12. (SBU) Post requests that USAID/OFDA, USAID/FFP, and State/PRM
review their resources to identify potential funds to continue to
support the ICRC, UNCHAP, and the USAID umbrella grant mechanism, in
phases 1 and 2. Post thanks USAID/OFDA for providing on the ground
support to assist country team with the scenario planning, to
maintain regular contact with UN/ICRC and INGO agencies in the
affected areas and in Colombo, and to identify further needs
requiring USG support during phase 1.

BLAKE

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