Cablegate: Gsl Minister Cautiously Optimistic On Direction of Peace Process Based On Meeting with Tiger Spokesman

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

DECL: 08-01-12
SUBJECT: GSL minister cautiously optimistic on direction of peace process based on meeting with Tiger spokesman

Refs: (A) Oslo 1742; (B) Colombo 1391 (U) Classified by Ambassador E. Ashley Wills.

Reasons: 1.5 (b,d).

1. (C/NF)
Summary: In a July 31 meeting, Milinda Moragoda, a senior GSL minister, provided the Ambassador a detailed readout of his recent talks with Anton Balasingham, the spokesman of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The atmospherics were excellent, he related. On substantive issues, productive discussions were held on many topics, including the scope and timing of proposed negotiations, and ceasefire pact implementation. The LTTE side also sounded out Moragoda about the PM´s recent visit to the U.S. Overall, the London meeting seems to have provided a solid foundation for next steps in the peace process. End Summary.

----------------- Meeting in London -----------------

2. (C/NF) In a July 31 meeting with the Ambassador, Milinda Moragoda, a senior GSL minister, provided a detailed readout of his July 27 talks with Anton Balasingham, the LTTE spokesman. The meeting took place at the Norwegian Embassy in London. Moragoda was the only GSL representative present. Balasingham and his (Australian) wife, Adele, represented the LTTE. Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen, Special Envoy Erik Solheim, Norwegian Ambassador to Sri Lanka Jon Westborg, and Norwegian MFA official Lisa Golden were also present at the meeting as observers. (Note: Ref A contains Golden´s readout of the meeting. Her remarks track with Moragoda´s.)

--------------------- Positive Atmospherics ---------------------

3. (C/NF) Moragoda said the atmospherics of the meeting were excellent. The Tigers had requested the meeting and they seemed to want to make it work. Balasingham gave the impression that he wanted to settle differences. Throughout the meeting, he seemed ""sincere, amiable, flexible."" He was much easier to deal with and less dogmatic than Moragoda had thought he would be. He was even ""disarming."" At one point in the discussion, for example, Balasingham jokingly (and accurately) used the term ""extortion"" in referring to his organization´s so-called ""taxation"" policies. It was possible, Moragoda allowed, that Balasingham was being ""duplicitous"" and ""putting on an act"" in order to gain some sort of advantage in the talks. If that was the case, Balasingham did his best to hide any such ulterior motives.

---------------------------- Discussion re Proposed Talks ----------------------------

4. (C/NF) On matters of substance, the talks were quite productive, according to Moragoda. He noted that there was a brief discussion of when proposed face-to-face high-level negotiations between the GSL and the LTTE might be held. Moragoda´s general impression was that the talks might kick off at some point in September or October, but it was still not clear and there had been no agreement on the issue. (Note: The two sides have already agreed that the venue of the proposed talks will be Thailand.)

5. (C/NF) The two sides also discussed the scope of possible negotiations. Balasingham seemed intent that the proposed talks focus primarily on the setting up of an interim council for the north and east, as opposed to focusing on a final settlement of the dispute. He specifically said the LTTE did not want ""countless lawyers"" being involved in the talks. That would only complicate matters. Moragoda replied that the GSL wanted all issues to be on the table. He also told Balasingham, however, that it would be possible for certain issues -- including the interim council -- to be dealt with more quickly than other, so-called ""core issues."" Balasingham seemed relieved to hear this. (Note: Moragoda told the Ambassador that Ambassador Westborg had mentioned to him the best way forward regarding an interim administration may be to revive the ""north-east council"" structure. The council -- a product of the 1987 Indo-Sri Lankan accord -- is no longer active, but is already codified in the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution. End Note.)

6. (C/NF) In an interesting aside on the LTTE´s long- term objectives, Balasingham told Moragoda that the Tigers were mulling over ideas such as ""internal autonomy, federalism and confederalism."" Moragoda thought that this was positive in that Balasingham had not mentioned the word ""separatism."" He admitted that he was not sure what the LTTE might mean by these terms, however, as they were all subject to various interpretations.

-------------------- Other Issues Covered --------------------

7. (C/NF) Moragoda said there was also a constructive give-and-take on a wide variety of additional subjects related to the peace process, including: -- Ceasefire Accord Implementation: Balasingham stressed that it was important that the Sri Lankan government adhere to the terms of the February ceasefire accord. He indicated that the matter was not a ""deal breaker,"" however -- the LTTE just wanted to see more progress. In particular, the Sri Lankan military had to do a better job of vacating temples and schools. In addition, the LTTE was concerned about the ""high security zones,"" the large swaths of the north and east currently controlled by the Sri Lankan military. These areas should be made smaller, so that Tamil civilians had increased access to public lands. Moragoda replied that the government would look into the issue, although the zones were technically permitted under the ceasefire accord. -- Sea-related Issues: Balasingham told Moragoda that the LTTE was concerned that Sri Lanka Naval (SLN) vessels were transiting too close to LTTE shore-based positions off the Mullaitivu region on Sri Lanka´s northeast coast. LTTE guns had a range of up to 10 miles in that area. It was important that the SLN not spark an incident. The LTTE had also recently purchased trawlers in India and was using them to fish. The GSL should allow this activity. Moragoda replied that the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) should look into these issues; that was what the group was there for. The issue of transit by LTTE boats was also discussed. The LTTE had backed off its formerly hard-line stand. It now seemed willing to accede to a compromise formulation developed by the SLMM that would allow less than fully armed LTTE cadre to travel via LTTE boats. LTTE boats could also carry a specified amount of ammunition for their fixed guns, per the SLMM proposal. -- LTTE Cadre Held Prisoner: Balasingham also requested that LTTE personnel held prisoner by the government be released as soon as possible. Moragoda said he would look into the matter. (Note: Balasingham estimated that the GSL held hundreds of its cadre prisoner. Moragoda said he had been told by GSL contacts that the number was less than a hundred.) -- LTTE request re Banking: On behalf of LTTE financial chief ""Thamil Enthy,"" Balasingham requested that the government open up banks that would provide loans to farmers and others living in Tiger-controlled areas. This would help increase economic activity in the area. Moragoda told Balasingham he would review this. He noted to the Ambassador that he was checking on whether a defunct GSL-backed micro-credit bank could be revived in order to focus on this matter. -- Muslim Issues: Balasingham complained that Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader Rauf Hakeem had been asked by the LTTE to keep in touch with LTTE eastern commander Karuna. Hakeem, however, continued to demand that his only LTTE interlocutor be the group´s leader, V. Prabhakaran. This was a problem and was leading to a breakdown in LTTE-SLMC relations. In fact, the LTTE was increasingly avoiding the SLMC altogether and dealing directly with other Muslim groups.

------------------- Query re U.S. Visit -------------------

8. (C/NF) The LTTE side also wanted to know about Prime Minister Wickremesinghe´s July 21-25 visit to the U.S., with Adele Balasingham specifically asking about the PM´s meeting with President Bush. Moragoda replied that President Bush had given the PM his full vote of confidence and had expressed support for a negotiated solution of the conflict. (Anton) Balasingham commented that this was fine with the LTTE, as the group understood that the U.S. and India had key roles to play in the peace process. Moragoda briefly mentioned U.S. assistance on military matters, commenting that a more secure Sri Lankan military would only benefit the peace process.

---------------------- Balasingham´s Schedule ----------------------

9. (C/NF) The London meeting wrapped up with a brief discussion of Balasingham´s schedule. Balasingham said he would be in London until mid-August (apparently his mother-in-law was in town). He planned to travel to Oslo around August 15 to give a speech. He wanted to travel to Canada at some point, too, but it was not clear whether the Canadian government would permit him to visit. Around August 20, he planned to travel to Sri Lanka to visit the LTTE leadership in the north. Balasingham noted that in doing this he would like to transit India, but it was not clear whether India would allow him in the country. (Note: The Indian government has previously given Balasingham a firm ""no"" in reply to his pleas to enter the country.) Adele Balasingham noted that her husband´s health was poor and that India should be helpful and offer him medical treatment if he needed it while in northern Sri Lanka. (Note: India has said no to this before, too.)

10. (C/NF) Moragoda told the Ambassador that he had invited Balasingham to transit Colombo on his way to the north, but Balasingham had turned down the offer, saying ""not at this time."" Moragoda added that he had heard from the Norwegian side that Helgesen might make a trip to Sri Lanka in late August, around the same time as Balasingham´s planned trip.

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

11. (C/NF) Overall, the London meeting seems to have provided a solid foundation for next steps in the peace process. Moragoda, for one, appeared confident that the talks had gone well. That said, he made clear that he did not want to make too much of the meeting and that he remained cautious, given the difficulty of reading the LTTE´s true intentions. Certainly, the meeting -- the highest-level GSL-LTTE contact in years -- was an important benchmark. The notion of high-level representatives of the GSL and the LTTE discussing issues face-to-face in a productive give-and-take is a new and positive development. In addition, the fact that the talks took place at all was important for the GSL in underscoring to Sri Lankans that its peace initiative still maintains traction and is not sliding backwards. End Comment.

12. (U) Minimize considered.

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