Cablegate: Import of Radio Equipment for Tamil Tigers Sparks Controversy for Gsl and Norwegian Facilitators

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

DECL: 12-20-12

SUBJECT: Import of radio equipment for Tamil Tigers sparks controversy for GSL and Norwegian facilitators Ref: Colombo 1891 (U) Classified by Lewis Amselem, Deputy Chief of Mission. Reasons 1.5 (b, d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: The recent import of radio equipment for the LTTE has stirred controversy, with critics asserting that the government and the Norwegian facilitators have gone too far in pleasing the Tigers. In response, the GSL says it assisted in the import of the equipment in exchange for the LTTE´s agreement to work within broadcasting regulations. The Norwegians underscore that they were working to further the peace process at GSL request. The incident has left a bad taste in everyone´s mouth. At the same time, it is important not to miss the fact that this was an instance where the Tigers paid heed to government regulations, something they never did in the past. END SUMMARY.

Import of Radio Equipment -------------------------

2. (SBU) The recent import of radio equipment into Sri Lanka for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has stirred controversy. The equipment in question was brought into Colombo harbor last month in a shipping container. Because the consignment was for the Norwegian Embassy, no duty was paid. The Norwegian Embassy has confirmed that it turned the consignment over to the GSL´s Peace Secretariat, which then passed the items over to the LTTE with the assistance of the Defense Ministry. At some point in this process, the LTTE´s radio station, the ""Voice of the Tigers,"" was legalized by the GSL as a private entity and given permission to broadcast.

3. (SBU) (((Note: It is not exactly clear what sort of radio equipment the LTTE was importing, but it is believed to have consisted of items that would allow the Voice of the Tigers radio to upgrade its FM capability. At this time, the Voice of the Tigers has very limited FM and short-wave capabilities, allowing the station to be dimly heard in parts of the north and east -- See Reftel for additional background. Some press reports state that the FM-upgrade equipment cost about USD 90,000 and that the equipment was bought in Singapore. It is not clear what range the new equipment will allow the Voice of the Tigers to have. The Indian government reportedly has expressed concerns to the GSL that the equipment will allow LTTE broadcasts to reach Tamil Nadu. End Note.)))

Controversy Erupts ------------------

4. (SBU) When word of the equipment import leaked out, critics pounced on the GSL and the Norwegians accusing them of going too far to please the Tigers. The radical, Sinhalese chauvinist Janantha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) party was particularly vociferous, asserting that the government was helping sponsor the LTTE´s ""propaganda"" campaign. (Note: Many Sri Lankans are allergic to the mere mention of the Voice of the Tigers: the station has broadcast some pretty bloodcurdling stuff in the past, including salutes to the LTTE´s terrorist acts.) Some newspapers criticized the government for undertaking the import effort in ""secret."" Norway was particularly hard hit, with critics asserting (in wildly inaccurate fashion -- see below) that the GoN -- acting of its volition -- was importing equipment for the LTTE in an effort to save the group from paying duties to the legitimate government.

GSL, Norwegian Response -----------------------

5. (C) In response to the flak, the government stressed that it was allowing the import of the equipment because the LTTE had agreed to accede to GSL broadcasting regulations. Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke, the chief of the Peace Secretariat, told us that this was an important concession by the LTTE because for the first time the group had conceded that its radio station should follow GSL-set procedures like all other stations in the country. In any case, Goonetilleke noted, the Tigers could have tried to import the equipment illegally, as they have done in the past. If they had done so successfully, the government would not have had any leverage over their broadcasting capabilities, which it now has to some degree.

6. (C) For their part, the Norwegians, who have largely kept mum in public, have told us that they were only working to further the peace process at GSL request. Norwegian Ambassador Westborg told us that the Sri Lankan government had specifically requested his Embassy´s assistance several months ago. The GoN only agreed to help if the equipment was provided to the Peace Secretariat -- and not directly to the LTTE. Press reporting to the effect that the Norwegian government was out to assist the LTTE by undermining GSL authority was an outright falsehood, he emphasized.

COMMENT -------

7. (C) The incident has left a bad taste in everyone´s mouth. The Norwegians, who have come under so much criticism from anti-peace process elements, feel particularly aggrieved at the charges. The GSL admits that it did a poor job of communicating what it was doing. This failure, in turn, helped set up the Norwegians for criticism. Overall, while the incident did not really do too much damage to the peace process, its handling provided skeptics of the process some ammunition. At the same time, it is important not to miss the fact that this was an instance where the Tigers paid heed to government regulations, something the group never did before the peace process was launched. END COMMENT.

8. (U) Minimize considered.

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