Cablegate: Tigers Announce They Are Suspending Peace Talks; Gsl, Most Observers See Move As Tactical

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

DECL: 04-22-13
SUBJECT: Tigers announce they are suspending peace talks; GSL, most observers see move as tactical
Refs: Colombo 685, and previous (Notal) (U) Classified by Ambassador E. Ashley Wills.
Reasons: 1.5 (b, d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: In a press release dated April 21, the Tamil Tigers suspended their participation in the peace talks and said they will not attend the June donors conference. The GSL has not yet reacted in public to the statement (short of a very brief letter to the Tigers taking note of their statement). Minister Moragoda told us that he thought the move was tactical, ""shock therapy"" by the Tigers, as he put it. Other observers agree with this perspective. While the Tigers are always hard to read, we tend to agree that they still see the peace process as a going concern. A suggested press statement for Washington´s immediate review is contained in Para

--------------- Tiger Statement ---------------

2. (U) In a long press release dated April 21, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) suspended its participation in peace talks with the Sri Lankan government and said the group will not attend the June donors conference in Tokyo. (Note: Per the statement, the seventh round of GSL-LTTE talks, which had been set to take place in Thailand from April 29 - May 2, is now off.) The press release came in the form of a letter from the LTTE´s London-based spokesman and senior negotiator Anton Balasingham to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. (Note: The text of the statement, as carried by pro-LTTE websites, is contained in Para 11.)

3. (U) The statement begins by tipping its hat to the peace process, noting that the prior rounds of talks and other interactions among the LTTE, government, and Norwegian government facilitators had ""fostered trust and confidence."" After this brief introduction, the statement hits it stride when it makes the following three major complaints about the peace process: -- April 14 Seminar: The statement asserts that the GSL and the Norwegian facilitators should have ensured the LTTE´s participation in all meetings on international assistance issues. Instead, the GSL and GoN allowed Washington to be the venue of the April 14 seminar on Sri Lanka despite being ""fully aware of the fact that the United States has legal constraints in inviting representatives of a proscribed organization"" to the U.S. The statement goes on to claim that the LTTE´s ""exclusion"" from the conference ""has seriously eroded the confidence of our people in the peace process."" (Note: The LTTE could not attend the seminar because the group is on our Foreign Terrorist Organization, ""FTO,"" list. This part of the statement is the only place where the U.S. is mentioned.) -- Ceasefire Accord Implementation: In its second key section, the statement asserts that the government has not done enough to implement the February 2002 ceasefire accord (a.k.a., ""the Ceasefire Memorandum of Understanding""). The LTTE asserts that ""tens of thousands of government troops continue to occupy our towns, cities and residential areas, suffocating the freedom of mobility of our people."" The statement goes on to claim that the GSL´s ""repeated assurances that the resettlement of displaced people would be expedited have proven futile."" (Note: About 300,000 displaced persons have, in fact, returned to their homes in the north and east since the peace process began. About 500,000 people remain displaced.) A specific reference is made to Jaffna District, where the LTTE has long complained that the GSL has not done enough to reduce the size of its ""high security zones."" -- Focus of Assistance: The third major section involves a long, rambling, vague claim that the government should not be asking for international assistance for all of Sri Lanka, but only for the war- torn north and east. According to the LTTE, ""(T)he poverty that is prevailing in southern Sri Lanka is a self-inflicted phenomenon, caused by the disastrous policies of past governments in dealing with the Tamil national conflict...This approach grossly understates the severity of the problems faced by the people in the northeast.""

4. (U) Briefly reciting these complaints, the statement wraps up by saying: ""Under these circumstances, the LTTE leadership has decided to suspend its participation in the negotiations for the time being. We will not be attending the donor conference in Japan in June. While we regret that we are compelled to make this painful decision, we wish to reiterate our commitment to seek a negotiated political solution to the ethnic question.""

------------ GSL Reaction ------------

5. (C) The government has not yet issued an official public reaction to the LTTE statement. (Note: Late April 22, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe sent a very brief letter to the LTTE´s Balasingham stating that the GSL had taken note of the Tigers´ concerns and planned to respond to them in full. A copy of this letter is being faxed to SA/INS.) In an April 22 conversation, Minister Milinda Moragoda, who had just returned from Europe, told the Ambassador that he thought the LTTE´s announcement was basically tactical in nature, ""a way to regain control of the agenda by the Tigers,"" as he put it. It was positive that the Tigers had made clear they were not pulling out of the talks on a permanent basis and had not pulled out of the ceasefire accord, for example. On this point, Moragoda related he had met J. Maheswaran, a pro-LTTE Tamil of Australian nationality, on his plane trip back from Europe. Moragoda said Maheswaran had told him he (Maheswaran) still intended to participate (as a LTTE representative) in ceasefire- related meetings. (Note: The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission has also told us that the LTTE has given no indication that it intends to cancel its participation in ceasefire-related meetings, including in the Sub- Committee on Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs in the North and the East, ""SIHRN."")

6. (C) In making the statement, Moragoda said the LTTE seemed to be using ""shock therapy"" because it felt a bit cornered, as many of the easy steps regarding the peace process had already been taken, leaving only tough decisions. In addition to being upset about the April 14 seminar, Moragoda remarked that he thought the group was also disturbed by political happenings in the south, including a possible linkup between the Opposition People´s Alliance (PA) and the radical, anti- peace process Janantha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). Noting that he had met with Norwegian envoy Solheim while in Europe, Moragoda said he and other GSL officials involved with peace process issues planned to meet with the Prime Minister late April 22 to formulate next steps. Ambassador Wills commented that the government would be wise to be restrained in what it says, but it should be firm with the LTTE. Moragoda said he agreed with that posture, and based on an earlier conversation, he thought the PM was on board for that sort of approach. He confided that he had spoken with G.L. Peiris, the GSL´s chief negotiator, who seemed a bit ""frazzled"" by the LTTE´s announcement, however. (Note: Peiris is also the government´s chief spokesman.)

7. (U) (((Note: Shortly after her return from an official visit to Bangladesh, President Kumaratunga issued a statement critical of the LTTE´s announcement. The president´s statement called the LTTE´s rationale for pulling out of the talks ""feeble"" and called for the group to reconsider its decision. In a rare joint meeting of the two political adversaries, the president and the Prime Minister are scheduled to discuss the situation on April 22.)))

-------------- Other Reaction --------------

8. (C) Most observers we have spoken to agree with Moragoda that the Tigers´ statement was tactical in nature and not an indication that the group plans to end the peace process. Comments we have picked up included the following: -- N. Raviraj, a Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP who has expressed concerns about the LTTE in the past, commented that he had ""full confidence"" that the current problems could be worked out. He said he believed that the Tigers´ non-invitation to the April 14 seminar was the ""spark"" that led to the LTTE´s releasing the statement, but he thought the group could be convinced to re-enter the talks. -- Joseph Pararajasingham, a Tamil MP with very close LTTE links, told us that Tiger officials had recently assured him that the group would not scrap the ceasefire accord. He was also confident that if the Norwegians took part in ""shuttle diplomacy"" they could get the LTTE to attend the June donors conference in Tokyo. He said he thought the LTTE truly was angered over the Sri Lankan military´s continuing large-scale presence in Jaffna, as well as its ""exclusion"" from the April 14 conference in the U.S. Notwithstanding the hard feelings, he predicted that these issues could be ""overcome,"" allowing the peace process to move forward. -- M.L.A.M. Hizbullah, a National Unity Alliance MP and a Muslim, said he was convinced that the suspension of talks would have little long-term impact on the peace process. He said the GSL should respond to the LTTE in good faith with proposals re the security zones in Jaffna and in other areas to assuage LTTE concerns. He also expressed doubts that the LTTE would not, in the end, attend the donors conference in Tokyo, as ""it was in their interest to be there."" -- Taking a somewhat different tack, V. Thevaraj, the editor of a Tamil-language daily newspaper, expressed some concern over what he described as ""deep anger"" within the LTTE. He stated that some in the LTTE remained furious over the deaths of 11 of its sea cadre in a confrontation with the Sri Lankan navy off the northeast coast in March (see Reftels). The LTTE´s statement, he averred, was an effort by its leadership to appease Tiger hard-liners, who remained bitter over this incident.

-------COMMENT -------

9. (C) While the Tigers are always hard to read, we tend to agree that that their statement seems basically tactical in nature and that they still see the peace process as a going concern. It was positive, for example, that the group did not permanently pull out of the peace talks; nor, based on what we are hearing, is it ending cooperation on ceasefire-related matters. Our guess is that Moragoda is right and that the group is trying to regain control of the agenda via some ""shock therapy."" The LTTE´s decision, as it happens, also appears to fit into its seeming long-term desire to slow down the pace of the peace process. (Note: Some observers say, for example, that the LTTE wants to wait until arch-foe President Kumaratunga´s term ends in late 2005 before it agrees to a negotiated settlement.) In issuing the statement, however, the LTTE is exposing itself to a lot of flak that it is undermining the peace track. We think that pressure on the group to remain a part of the process will not only come from the south, but also from many Tamils, who know that a return to war would be devastating for their community.

--------------------- Draft Press Statement ---------------------

10. (C) Attached below is a draft press statement for Washington´s immediate review. We would like Washington´s clearance by April 23 morning (local), so that the statement can be issued that day. We have received many press inquiries and would like to get a U.S. statement out right away. As an alternative to the attached statement, Washington may wish to consider issuance of a ""minimalist"" statement that simply regrets the LTTE´s decision, and urges it to reconsider, so as not to endanger the gains made by the peace process. We think it is important to be up-front and direct with the LTTE about its action, which is why we recommend the attached statement. Either way, we would appreciate Washington´s guidance ASAP. Begin text: We regret the decisions by the LTTE to suspend its participation in the Sri Lankan peace talks and not to attend the Tokyo donor´s conference scheduled for June. We reviewed carefully the ostensible reasons for these decisions cited in Mr. Balasingham´s letter to the Prime Minister dated April
21. We do not find them convincing. A well-intentioned party that truly wants a peaceful, political settlement to Sri Lanka´s conflict could deal with such grievances at the negotiating table. We call on the Tigers to reconsider and to return to the negotiating track. We also call on the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka to honor the terms of the ceasefire even while the talks are suspended. In the meantime, this interregnum in the talks could prove useful by giving both parties the opportunity to recommit themselves to negotiations. We have long supported the MOU even though we have also acknowledged it has not been implemented perfectly. Blame for this does not fall exclusively on the side of the Government of Sri Lanka, however, as the LTTE´s statement suggests. The Tigers, too, bear heavy responsibility for numerous breaches of the MOU. While the talks are suspended, we urge the LTTE to reflect carefully on its own transgressions. Assassinations of opponents, intimidation of Muslims, taxation without representation, aggressive Sea Tiger behavior and continued child recruitment do not build trust in the LTTE´s intentions. We continue to believe that the way out of Sri Lanka´s ethnic conflict is through negotiations facilitated by the Government of Norway. In this regard, we remain willing to do whatever we can to assist Sri Lanka as it tries to bring an end to this ugly war.
End text.

---------------------- Text of LTTE Statement ----------------------

11. (U) The following is the text of the LTTE statement made by LTTE spokesman Anton Balasingham and issued late April 21: Begin text. Dear Prime Minister, In accordance with the decision of our leadership I am advised to bring to your urgent attention the deep displeasure and dismay felt by our organization on some critical issues relating to the on-going peace process. You are well aware that the Ceasefire Agreement that has been in force for more than one year and the six rounds of peace negotiations between the principal parties has been successful, irrespective of the occurrence of some violent incidents that endangered the peace process. The stability of the ceasefire and the progress of the peace talks, you will certainly appreciate, are the positive outcome of the sincere and firm determination of the parties to seek a permanent resolution to the ethnic conflict through peaceful means. The cordial inter-relationship, frank and open discussions and the able and wise guidance of the facilitators fostered trust and confidence between the negotiators and helped to advance the talks on substantial levels. The negotiating teams were able to form important sub- committees on the basis of equal and joint partnership. During the early negotiating sessions it was agreed that the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE should work together and approach the international community in partnership. The Oslo Donor Conference held on 25 November 2002 turned out to be an ideal forum for such joint endeavor. The LTTE has acted sincerely and in good faith extending its full cooperation to the government of Sri Lanka to seek international assistance to restore normalcy and to rehabilitate the war affected people of the northeast. The LTTE to date has joined hands with the government and participated in the preparation of joint appeals and programs. In spite of our goodwill and trust, your government has opted to marginalize our organization in approaching the international community for economic assistance. We refer to the exclusion of the LTTE from the crucial international donor conference held in Washington on 14 April 2003 in preparation for the major donor conference to be held in Japan in June. We view the exclusion of the LTTE, the principle partner to peace and the authentic representatives of the Tamil people from discussions on critical matters affecting the economic and social welfare of the Tamil nation, as a grave breach of good faith. Your government, as well as our facilitator Norway, are fully aware of the fact that the United States has legal constraints to invite representatives of a proscribed organization to their country. In these circumstances an appropriate venue could have been selected to facilitate the LTTE to participate in this important preparatory aid conference. But the failure on the part of your government to do so gives cause for suspicion that this omission was deliberate. The exclusion of the LTTE from this conference has severely eroded the confidence of our people. As you are aware, considerable optimism and hopes were raised among the people when your government, shortly after assuming power, entered into a ceasefire agreement with our organization, bringing to an end twenty years of savage and bloody conflict. Expectations were further raised when both sides began direct negotiations with Norwegian facilitation. In particular, there was a justifiable expectation that the peace process would address the urgent and immediate existential problems facing the people of the north and east, particularly the million people who are internally displaced by the conflict and are languishing in welfare centers and refugee camps. As such, the Ceasefire Agreement included crucial conditions of restoring normalcy which required the vacation, by occupying Sri Lankan troops, of Tamil homes, schools, places of worship and public buildings. Despite the agreed timeframe for this evacuation of troops, which has since passed, there has been no change in the ground situation. We have repeatedly raised the issue of continuing suffering of our people at every round of talks with your government. Your negotiators´ repeated assurances that the resettlement of the displaced people would be expedited have proven futile. The negotiations have been successful in so far as significant progress has been made in key areas, such as the agreement to explore federalism on the basis of the right to self-determination of our people. But this progress has not been matched by any improvement in the continuing hardships being faced by our people as a result of your government´s refusal to implement the normalization aspects of the Ceasefire Agreement and subsequent agreements reached at the talks. As a result, considerable disillusionment has set in amongst the Tamil people, and in particular the displaced, who have lost all hope the peace process will alleviate their immense suffering. Through there is peace due to the silencing of the guns, normalcy has not returned to Tamil areas. Tens of thousands of government troops continue to occupy our towns, cities and residential areas suffocating the freedom of mobility or our people. Such a massive military occupation of Tamil lands, particularly in Jaffna - a densely populated district - during peace times denying the right of our displaced people to return to their homes, is unfair and unjust. Your government, in international forums, continues to place poverty as the common phenomenon affecting the entire country. The Poverty Reduction Strategy forms the essence of the document Regaining Sri Lanka´ which defines the macro-economic policy of your government. Though poverty and poverty alleviation constitute the centrality of the new economic vision of your government as exemplified in `Regaining Sri Lanka´ the document fails to examine the causality of the phenomenon of poverty, the effects of ethnic war and the unique conditions of devastation prevailing in the northeast. In our view, the conditions of reality prevailing in Tamil areas are qualitatively different from southern Sri Lanka. The Tamils faced the brunt of the brutal war. Twenty years of intense and incessant war has caused irreparable destruction to the infrastructure in the northeast. This colossal destruction augmented by continued displacement of the people and their inability to pursue their livelihoods due to military restrictions and activities have caused untold misery and extreme poverty among the people of the northeast. Continued displacement has also depleted all forms of savings of these people disabling them from regaining their lives on their own. The war-affected people need immediate help to regain their dignity. They need restoration of essential services to re-establish their lives. Reconstruction of infrastructures such as roads, hospitals, schools and houses are essential for them to return to normal life. The poverty that is prevailing in southern Sri Lanka is a self-inflicted phenomenon, caused by the disastrous policies of the past governments (both the UNP and the SLFP) in dealing with the Tamil national conflict. In its fanatical drive to prosecute an unjust war against the Tamil people, the Sinhala state wasted all national wealth to a futile cause. The massive borrowings to sustain an absurd policy of `war for peace´ by the former government caused huge international indebtedness. The economic situation of the south has been further worsened by the mismanagement of state funds, bad governance and institutional corruption. Therefore, the conditions prevailing in the south are distinctly different from the northeast where the scale and magnitude of the infra-structural destruction is monumental and the poverty is acute. Ignoring this distinctive reality, your government posits poverty as a common phenomenon across the country and attempts to seek a solution with a common approach. This approach grossly under states the severity of the problems faced by the people in the northeast. The government´s `Regaining Sri Lanka´ document completely lacks any form of identified goals for the northeast. Statistics presented for substantiating the policy totally ignore the northeast and solely concentrate on southern Sri Lanka. However, this has been promoted as the national strategy to the international community to seek aid. It is evident from this that the government lacks any comprehensive strategy for serious development of the northeast. The poverty reduction strategy fails to address the poverty of the northeast as distinct from the rest. In seeking international assistance your government disingenuously speaks of reconstruction being needed in all areas, thereby masking the total destruction of the infrastructure of the northeast which has resulted from the militarist policies of the past three decades. As we pointed out above, the exclusion of the LTTE from critical aid conference in Washington, the non- implementation of the terms and conditions enunciated in the truce document, the continuous suffering and hardship experienced by hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Tamils, the aggressive Sinhala military occupation of Tamil cities and civilian settlements, the distortion and marginalization of the extreme conditions of poverty and deprivation of the Tamils of the northeast in the macro-economic policies and strategies of the government have seriously undermined the confidence of the Tamil people and the LTTE leadership in the negotiating process. Under these circumstances the LTTE leadership has decided to suspend its participation in the negotiations for the time being. We will not be attending the donor conference in Japan in June. While we regret that we were compelled to make this painful decision, we wish to reiterate our commitment to seek a negotiated political solution to the ethnic question. We also urge the government of Sri Lanka to restore confidence in the peace process amongst the Tamil people by fully implementing, without further delay, the normalization aspects of the ceasefire agreement and permit the immediate resettlement of the internally displaced people of the northeast. We also request the government to re-evaluate its economic development strategy to reconstruct the Tamil nation destroyed by war. End text.

12. (U) Minimize considered.

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