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Cablegate: Press Release - "Us Ambassador's Reaction to Ltte

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 000707

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR D, P, INR/R/MR, I/RW, I/REC; PA SA/INS (FOR JWALLER)

DEPT ALSO FOR SA/PD (FOR LJIRWIN, LSCENSNY, WREINCKENS); SSA/PAB

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO OPRC KMDR OIIP CE PTER EGEN LTTE
SUBJECT: PRESS RELEASE - "US AMBASSADOR'S REACTION TO LTTE
SUSPENSION OF PEACE TALKS"

Colombo, April 24, 2003

Follows is the full text of an interview by Reuters with
Ambassador Wills on April 24.

Question - What is the U.S. reaction to the Tigers' pull-
out from the talks?

Answer - We regret the decisions by the LTTE to suspend its
participation in the Sri Lankan peace talks and not to
attend the Tokyo Donors Conference scheduled for June.

We've reviewed carefully the ostensible reasons for these
decisions cited in Mr. Balasingham's letter to the PM. 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. I'm not saying I don't understand Tamil frustration
over certain issues, but people must remember that the war
is not conclusively and officially over. High-security
zones, resettlement, development - these are all issues
that need to be negotiated and dealt with. But if the LTTE
wants to represent Tamil interests, it has to participate
in the negotiations, not walk away from them.

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 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 strongly supported the
ceasefire even though we have also acknowledged it hasn't
been implemented perfectly. Blame for this does not fall
exclusively on the side of the Government, however, as the
LTTE's statement suggested. The Tigers, too, bear heavy
responsibility for numerous breaches of the ceasefire.
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. And for our part we remain willing
to do whatever we can to assist Sri Lanka as it tries to
bring an end to this ugly war.

Question - What about the charge the LTTE makes that Tamils
are seeing no development, no peace dividend?

Answer - We think that expectations in Sri Lanka - in the
north and in the south too - are way too high regarding
economic development. Patience is in order. Tamils,
Sinhalese, indeed all Sri Lankans must understand that
economic development takes time and unfolds most quickly in
conditions of lasting peace. And Sri Lanka doesn't yet
live in conditions of permanent peace. I don't mean to
sound condescending, but sometimes I get the impression
that some people in Sri Lanka expect an economic miracle
now. Rome wasn't built in a day. Neither will Kilinochi,
or Trinco, or Hambantota be developed as quickly as we
would all like.

I obviously don't speak for all the donors, but it is my
impression that many programs are already underway in Sri
Lanka's north and east. For example, demining, by the U.S.
and others, is underway and other developmental activities
are happening as well. So to allege that nothing is going
on is unfair. And to suggest that conditions haven't
improved distorts the truth.

It is also my impression that Sri Lanka's friends intend to
be a lot more generous, and they intend to see that their
money reaches undeveloped, deserving areas of the north and
east - because that's where the devastation has been
greatest - but also areas of the south. Mr. Balasingham's
letter makes it sound like it was only the mismanagement of
previous Colombo governments that impoverished the south of
Sri Lanka, and that the devastation of the north and east
is all Colombo's fault. That's ludicrous. Successive
governments down here in the south have made many mistakes,
that's certain, but if blame is being distributed fairly,
the LTTE deserves a great deal as well. Its pursuit of an
extreme, separatist agenda, by violent means, has cost Sri
Lanka's north and east, but the rest of Sri Lanka too,
thousands of lives and 20 years of peaceful development.
Let us not forget that we need to undo the damage caused by
some two decades of war and terror and even more years of
failed economic policies. That will not be done overnight.
I should also point out that it is my sense that Sri
Lanka's donors are properly modest about the impact of
their assistance. It will be substantial, yes, and in
certain areas it may be decisive in improving people's
lives. But we donors know that in general foreign
assistance can only be catalytic. The biggest difference
in economic terms will be made by national and local
governments' adopting the right policies. And in today's
world, my government believes that the right policies are
those that favor the private sector and individual
initiative. Government has its role - in educating people,
in building infrastructure, in helping the poorest people,
in protecting individual and property rights - but it is
Sri Lanka's own people, engaged in business dealings with
one another and with outsiders - who will make this country
rich.

On this important point, it would be a good thing for the
LTTE to declare its intentions. The Sri Lankan Government
must do a much better job of delivering services and
assistance. It's way too slow and bureaucratic. We are
not blind to the faults of the Colombo Government. But
what is the LTTE's economic ideology? Is it going to try
to control everything? Is it hoping to pursue autarkic
policies that isolate the north and east from the rest of
Sri Lanka? I'm confident the donors will not agree with
that. Or is it going to accept that the best way to help
the Tamil people is to connect them to the rest of Sri
Lanka and let their phenomenal talents find expression and
wealth in a richer,wider context.

Question - You seem pretty skeptical about the LTTE. What
can the Tigers do to find acceptance?

Answer - The Tigers want to be treated respectfully and
seriously. My government understands that. But as our
Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, said recently,
we can see a legitimate political role for the LTTE
provided it renounces terrorism and violence. The time for
fighting has long since passed. The LTTE's leadership
likes to portray itself as brave . . . well, a truly
courageous thing would be for that leadership to give up
violence and even the threat of violence and push for a
permanent peace now.

I've heard Tamils say that they may not like the LTTE's
tactics but they need the Tigers to protect them. I think
that's completely wrong. The outlines of a settlement have
been pretty clear for years, at least since the mid-90's.
Some sort of devolution of power that gives Sri Lanka's
north and east - merged or not - considerable autonomy is
in order. Call it internal self-determination if you like.
Call it federalism if you like. But Sri Lanka should
remain united. And be diverse and democratic. Local
governments likely will matter more than they do now.
That's the best way to protect Tamil and Sinhala and Muslim
rights and, most of all, individual rights. The LTTE's
weapons and armed cadre aren't protecting Tamil rights;
they're prolonging this conflict and delaying the day when
Tamils can live in truly peaceful conditions. And now that
the world is paying attention to Sri Lanka as never before,
the international community will be watching closely to see
that no one's rights get abused systematically once a final
settlement is done.

If the LTTE wants respect, it should accept this and engage
the Government to settle on the terms for a new Sri Lanka.
It should not pull out of the talks. And it should go to
Tokyo. It doesn't want to miss this opportunity to
represent the Tamil people, to be identified with the
decisions that are coming that will apportion donor money.
If Tamils are leery of Colombo-based governments, if they
fear that they will be double-crossed - and I can
understand why some Tamils would have such apprehensions -
then the LTTE should be engaging, not suspending. If the
LTTE makes positive moves, my government will acknowledge
them and respond. But a truly warm American and
international reaction can only come when the LTTE
renounces terrorism and violence.

The Tigers's goal should be to make peace, and quickly.
Too much blood has been spilled, too many opportunities for
forgiveness missed. If I may quote an Indian politician:
"It's impossible to shake hands with a clenched fist." And
I might add that it's hard to shake hands with one's back
turned.

WILLS

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