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Cablegate: Colombo, City of Lights

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 002285

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SA AND SA/INS; NSC FOR E. MILLARD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV SOCI CE
SUBJECT: Colombo, City of Lights

Refs: Colombo 2277, and previous

1. SUMMARY: Colombo is lit up this holiday season,
with electric lights draped all over the city. The GSL
is sponsoring the effort in a bid to increase the city's
attractiveness. For Sri Lankans, it is the first time
since the conflict began almost 20 years ago that they
remember the city looking so festive. Amid all the
discussions focusing on the ceasefire, federalism, and
other dry subjects, it is illustrative that Sri Lanka's
experience of the peace process also involves something
as simple--and evocative--as bright lights. END
SUMMARY.

2. Colombo is newly lit up this holiday season. Multi-
colored electric lights hang over streets, and bedeck
buildings and trees. The government is sponsoring the
effort in a bid to increase the city's attractiveness to
locals and tourists after years of war-enforced
austerity. Seeking a ripple effect that could help
restore ethnic harmony, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe
has even taken a personal interest, urging businesses to
put up lights wherever possible. In response, the
private sector is actively participating in a committee
formed by the Mayor's office, and beginning in late
November, many hotels and privately-owned buildings
strung up lights at their own expense. This, despite
the surging price of electricity and frequent power
outages that mean that expensive generators have to be
used to keep the lights on. (Note: While the vast
majority of coverage has been highly positive, there
have been a couple of articles in the press grousing
about the financial cost to the country of the lighting
campaign.)

3. For Sri Lankans, it is the first time since the
conflict began almost 20 years ago that they remember
the city looking so festive. Step-by-step as the war
became more serious from 1983 on, the city became a
progressively less welcoming place. Amid constant
patrolling by the military, roadblocks and checkpoints
were put up throughout the city to defend it from Tamil
Tiger terrorist attacks. Lights were also dimmed as the
city began to shut down at night. (Note: In the late
1980s, darkness almost completely enveloped the city as
citizens switched off their lights in response to
demands by leftist insurgents.) Given all of the
tension around them, Sri Lankans were in no particular
mood to celebrate the Christmas holiday season during
these difficult years. (Note: While the vast majority
of Sri Lankans are Buddhist or Hindu, there is a long
tradition in the country of respecting holidays of other
religions, especially Christmas.)

4. With the advent of the GSL-LTTE peace process in
December 2001, the city has gradually begun to gain back
some of its luster. Most of the roadblocks and
checkpoints have been closed and there are very few
troops on the streets. The campaign to turn on the
lights has helped bring back an added sense of normality
to the city and it seems that Sri Lankans--for the first
time in years--have found something worth celebrating in
a peace process that is almost one-year old.
(Note: Along with major businesses, the government is
also helping sponsor a "peace" concert, which will take
place in the city's largest stadium on December 14.)

5. COMMENT: Amid all of the discussions focusing on
the ceasefire, federalism, and other dry subjects, it is
illustrative that Sri Lanka's experience of the peace
process also involves something as simple--and evocative
--as bright lights. In the past year, the atmosphere of
Colombo and the country at large has improved
dramatically due to the progress made in ending the war.
Although there remains a justifiable sense of wariness
as to whether the peace effort will ultimately succeed,
it is almost as if a pall is being lifted. The powerful
impact that this shifting of the atmosphere has had on
Sri Lankans is one of the major factors propelling
strong popular support for the government's peace
initiative. END COMMENT.
6. (U) Minimize considered.

WILLS

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