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Cablegate: Media Play - More Coverage of Ambassador Wills'

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 07 COLOMBO 000721

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR D, INR/R/MR, I/RW, I/REC; PA
SA/INS(FOR JWALLER); SA/PD (FOR LJIRWIN, LSCENSNY,
WREINCKENS); SSA/PAB

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO PTER OPRC KMDR OIIP CE EGEN LTTE
SUBJECT: MEDIA PLAY - MORE COVERAGE OF AMBASSADOR WILLS'
4/24 REUTERS INTERVIEW ABOUT LTTE SUSPENSION OF TALKS AND
BALASINGHAM'S REPLY

REF: COLOMBO 0714

1. On April 21, the LTTE announced it was suspending peace
talks. In a letter to the GSL, the LTTE listed its reasons
for suspending talks as: its exclusion from the 4/14
Washington Conference, problems with the ceasefire accord
implementation, and that GSL had not focused enough on
rebuilding the economy of the North and East. On 4/24,
Reuters ran an exclusive interview with Ambassador Wills
focusing on USG reaction to this letter. The full text of
the interview was later released to the press (Reftel
Colombo 0707). On 4/25, LTTE Chief Negotiator and
Political Advisor Anton Balasingham responded to the
Ambassador's interview on Tamilnet, a pro-LTTE website.
Sri Lankan media covered this exchange extensively. While
news coverage of the Ambassador's comments and
Balasingham's reply were concentrated in the Tamil press;
English, Sinhala and Tamil media responded with extensive
editorial comment and many opinion pieces. The main
editorial theme in all languages was the need for the LTTE
to heed the US and international community's words and
return to the peace process. Usually skeptical opposition
ISLAND and ISLAND SUNDAY delivered predictably stronger
versions of the same message in editorial and opinion
pieces.

-----
Television and Radio.
-----

2. In their 4/26 newscasts, independent and government-
owned Sri Lankan telecasters (MTV and SLRC,) reported on
Balasingham's response to the Ambassador. Independent MTV
reported, "LTTE once again rejects US call to lay down
arms," while government-owned SLRC noted, "Anton
Balasingham says that they have not deviated from peace
talks in response to US Ambassadors reaction to LTTE
suspension."

-----
Newspapers.
-----

3. News coverage of the Ambassador's comments and
Balasingham's reply were concentrated in the Tamil press.
However, opposition English weekly, ISLAND SUNDAY, carried
an Agence France-Presse (AFP) story as its main headline,
"Balasingham softens stand on talks after US barrage" and
also carried the full text of Balasingham's Tamilnet
interview under the headline "LTTE responds to US
Ambassador" (4/27). AFP excerpts: "The LTTE on Saturday
assured the United States that they were not scuttling
talks with Sri Lanka, two days after the US ambassador here
slammed them for suspending peace negotiations...Diplomats
here had seen the LTTE's sudden suspension of talks as
brinkmanship and hoped that the negotiations could resume
soon.... LTTE negotiator Balasingham sounded conciliatory
in his remarks in the Tamilnet website, but refused the
give up their weapons as demanded by the US."

Several Tamil papers also reported on Balasingham's
response. State-owned THINAKARAN (4/27) headlined
"Balasingham explains to US Ambassador that Tigers did not
pull out from Peace talks" and reported that the LTTE
motive was to give the government some time to make
decisions. Independent SUDAR OLI (4/26) noted, "'Did not
withdraw from talks - It's only a temporary suspension'
Balasingham replies to US Ambassador." Independent
THINAKKURAL (4/26) reported, "'Suspension of talks to
provide time to the government' - Balasingham's explanation
to Wills' comment."

-----
Editorials.
-----
4. **** Under the headline "Heed timely advice,"
independent English Daily Mirror (4/26), commented that
Ambassador Wills' comments "need not be taken by the Tigers
as a loss of face, but. a reflection of increasing loss of
patience by the international community and particularly
USA over the LTTE's shrewd manoeuvrings." The editorial
follows:
"While some diplomats play cloak and dagger games with Sri
Lanka even when they are asked to play umpire, American
Ambassador Ashley Wills has indeed come to play an honest
broker's role."

"Here is the representative in this country of the world's
sole super power, but the trappings of such power has not
caused him to deliver blind sermons to us as has happened
with envoys of some powerful countries in the past, who
with their own agendas or having listened to the LTTE and
their apologists' propaganda, would lecture us to no end."

"Now at least the Americans appear to have understood the
game plan of the LTTE to blame everyone else except itself.
Ambassador Wills while acknowledging continuing
shortcomings on the side of the Sri Lankan Government like
it "must do a much better job of delivering services and
assistance" and "It's way too slow and bureaucratic," has
squarely put the blame on the LTTE for its intransigence."

"Referring to Anton Balasingham's letter to Prime Minister
Ranil Wickremesinghe, Mr. Wills observes: "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 government fault. That's ludicrous. Successive
governments have made many mistakes, 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 severely affected not only the north and east,
but the rest of Sri Lanka too."

"The forthright interview given by Ambassador Wills to
Reuters need not be taken by the Tigers as a loss of face,
but is a reflection of increasing loss of patience by the
international community and particularly USA over the
LTTE's shrewd manoeuvrings. We hope it will serve as a
timely warning to the LTTE. Mr. Prabhakaran holed up in
tiny Wanni should think twice before he turns his back on
this friendly advice from the US envoy."

"It should especially reflect on the following lines of Mr.
Wills: "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 behaviour and
continued child recruitment do not build trust in the
LTTE's intentions.'"

***** Typically skeptical opposition English daily ISLAND,
and weekly ISLAND SUNDAY offered editorial comment on 4/26
and 4/27. Under the 4/26 headline, "Hard talk can do more
than dollars" the ISLAND notes, "Had western nations read
the riot act to the LTTE on terrorism much earlier, the
history of Sri Lanka would have taken a different course
years ago." Excerpts:
"American Ambassador, Ashley Wills did some much needed
plain hard talking in his interview with Reuters on the
decision of the LTTE to suspend peace negotiations with the
government."
"This straight from the shoulder stuff was much needed
because in the convoluted rigmarole of the LTTE spokesman,
Balasingham, to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe
announcing the decision to suspend participation, an
attempt was made to project that the LTTE was the aggrieved
party, sweeping under the carpet, their belligerency and
terrorism that took place, even while the Ceasefire
Agreement was in force."
"If Prabakaran, Balasingham and their cronies had thought
that they could twist the arm of the Americans and other
western powers with blackmail of suspending negotiations,
these words of Ashley Wills, a resounding slap, was the
answer. But this is not enough."
"Neither the Sri Lanka government nor the western powers
involved in the peace process should yield to this
blackmail of the LTTE. If the LTTE walks out of the
negotiations, they do so knowing well that they place at
stake international assistance very much needed to
resurrect the war ravaged areas of the north and east as
well as alleviating the suffering of the Tamils in these
areas."
"It is evident that only the western nations where the ex-
patriate Tamil community makes a living and sends money to
the LTTE war chest that can make the LTTE do their bidding.
Had western nations read the riot act to the LTTE on
terrorism much earlier, the history of Sri Lanka would have
taken a different course years ago."
"Plain hard talk by other western ambassadors could help
this country much more than the millions of dollars they
are willing to part with."

***** The Opposition English weekly ISLAND SUNDAY continued
on (4/27), "Call the LTTE bluff" that if the LTTE stays
out of the peace talks, it "must realise and act on. that
while all Lankans will be losers in such an event, the
Tamils in the war-scarred northeast will be the biggest
losers." Excerpts:
"It's time to call the LTTE's bluff. U.S. Ambassador Ashley
Wills made clear as early as April 2 that the Tigers, as
members of a foreign terrorist organisation (FTO), will not
be invited to the Washington meeting earlier this month to
prepare for the major donor confab in Tokyo next June..."
"The LTTE must understand that threatening to sabotage the
Tokyo meeting, undoubtedly with the intention of extracting
some other concession, possibly something on the naval
front given the most pressing issue of the moment, as an
inducement to persuade them to attend, is not in the
interest of Sri Lanka and most so not in the interest of
the Tamil people of the north and the east that they claim
to represent. If the Tokyo meeting is scuttled or postponed
that means that there will be no international money
quickly forthcoming to press on with the urgent task of
undoing the ravages of the war"
"The country desperately needs the money that will surely
flow after the Tokyo meeting and the Tigers know this well.
That is why they are trying to maximize the possibilities
of the current scene resorting to the gun-at-the-head
tactic. Colombo must not capitulate. The LTTE has for too
long worn a look of injured innocence which Ambassador
Wills tellingly exposed last week with some refreshing
plain speak."
"Uncertainty on whether the Tokyo meeting will be held as
scheduled in June or not will definitely affect high level
participation. More importantly, international confidence
in the likelihood of a honourable and durable peace being
achieved in Sri Lanka will be seriously undermined. What
the LTTE must realise and act on is that while all Lankans
will be losers in such an event, the Tamils in the war-
scarred northeast will be the biggest losers. So Russian
roulette of the sort that is now being played is not the
best route to the desired objective."

***** Under the headline, "International community's
gesture," government-owned Sinhala Daily DINAMINA comments
(4/26) that because of the LTTE suspension of talks ".the
international community and the opposition have come to
agree on the peace process with the Sri Lankan Government."
Excerpts:

"There is a silver lining in every dark cloud. The silver
lining in the dark clouds created by LTTE's pulling out of
peace talks is now showing... The opposition had no clear
idea about the peace process... there were different views
on this and the LTTE... The general opinion of the
opposition on the peace process was never a clear one..."

"But, no sooner LTTE pulling out was announced the
opposition unanimously decided that negotiations should
occur... The united opposition's standpoint that 'peace
talks should continue' is a positive factor.
...International community is pressurizing the LTTE on
this...US, India and France...."

"US Ambassador on the 24th has said that LTTE, should come
to the negotiations table if they genuinely represent
Tamils and that their facts are just magnified and
unacceptable... US Ambassador has also pointed out that SLG
alone should not be blamed for the violations of MOU.... He
has strongly criticized some LTTE acts... North east
destruction has been caused by Sri Lankan governments as
well as LTTE and he has emphasized that LTTE must return to
peace talks..."

"Meanwhile, America stresses that LTTE should renounce
terrorism by word and deed. the international community led
by America says that Sri Lanka should be a democratic and
united country and no single ethnicity should be penalised.
This shows the irrelevance of the anti peace groups'
calling the peace process an attempt to divide the
country."

"With this decision of the LTTE, the international
community and the opposition have come to agree on the
peace process with the SLG. These silver linings on the
dark clouds should be considered as blessings... all
parties should dedicate themselves to peace... then our
dream will be realized.."


***** Under the headline, "LTTE cannot boycott
negotiations," independent Sinhala weekly LAKBIMA comments
that with the involvement of the international community,
"Sri Lanka's peace or war is not managed solely by Colombo
or Wanni." Excerpts:

"It is very important for LTTE to attend negotiations...
but they show as if it is of no importance to them... State
media also showed that it is the SLG that would lose if
Tigers pulled out from talks... But the public although
hard-bitten by the previous wars was not shaken. They knew
that LTTE cannot boycott talks..."

"This was the exact statement of the US Ambassador Ashley
Wills... he said that their reasoning was not acceptable
and that they have attend talks...he stressed on the
importance of their coming to Tokyo peace talks... listed
child abductions, intimidation of Muslims......and said
that this behavior would not help build confidence on
tigers .... That the international community would respect
them if they renounced terrorism..."

"Earlier, efforts were made to get the international
community in between the Sri Lankan government and the
LTTE... now not only they are here but they offer to advise
and guide if one party detours... we are not in a position
to blame anyone... this is what we have created... As we
once said, Sri Lanka's peace or war is not managed solely
by Colombo or Wanni"

***** Under the headline, "'Sri Lankan Government and
opposition agree on a solution through negotiations,"
government-owned Sinhala weekly SILUMINA comments (4/27):
"[the LTTE] cannot opt for war as the Sri Lankan
Government has kept the international community abreast of
the real situation...." Excerpts:

"...Several groups were blaming the peace process saying
that it attempts to divide the country... people in the
North as well as the international community push LTTE
towards peace... many analysts believe that this pulling
out is just in order to win some of their demands.....But
they cannot opt for war as SLG has kept the international
community abreast of the real situation...."

"Analyzing the facts listed by LTTE, the American
Ambassador says that they are not acceptable... while
accepting the mistakes of SLG, he has pointed out the
serious violations of MOU by LTTE. But when terrorist
organizations opt for peace serious incidents can be
expected."

"Without acting as opportunists, we all must realize tat
this we have come to a decisive point where we all should
solve this national crisis...."

***** Under the headline, "Appreciating the American
Ambassador's statement," independent Sinhala daily
LANKADEEPA, commented (4/28), "the Tigers who call
themselves genuine representatives of the Tamils should try
and let these people reap peace benefits by returning to
peace talks." Excerpts:

"LTTE before asking the Sri Lankan government about its
good response to MOU conditions should ask themselves
whether their response to same had been positive... Can
they point their fingers at somebody else? SLMM itself has
said that LTTE had more violations on their account... As
Mr. Wills very correctly points out SLG alone should not be
blamed for violations of MOU..."

"Ambassador Wills has given an excellent response to the
resettlement issues and its slow progress... he said that
"Expectations on development in the
south as well as the north are very high... All Sri Lankans
should understand economic development takes time and it
would accelerate only in lasting peace; Sri Lanka has not
yet achieved that... And he further said that lasting peace
can only be achieved by attending the peace talks and not
by walking away from it... We too agree that Tigers should
know the importance of sticking to the peace talks and
discussing the issues faced by both parties..."

"The fact that Tiger reasoning is not acceptable and blown
up... If lasting peace is achieved, highest benefits of
peace would be enjoyed by the suffering communities in the
north... The Tigers who call themselves genuine
representatives of the Tamils should try and let these
people reap peace benefits by returning to peace talks..."

***** Under the headline, "US Ambassador's request,"
Independent Tamil daily, VIRAKESARI (4/26) comments, "the
talks should continue with commitment for the sake of peace
and its benefits. In the meantime, the Government should
implement the decisions taken at the previous talks."
Excerpts:

"US Ambassador Ashley Wills has requested the Tiger
Organization to reverse its decision and to participate at
talks for the welfare of the Tamils."

"Many including the President, Opposition Leader, JVP and
Sihala Urumaya criticized the LTTE pull out and Sihala
Urumaya called for the immediate commencement of the war."

"Internationally there were comments and VIP's of many
countries including US and India had requested not to break
talks."

"US Ambassador Ashley Wills has given his complete views.
He stated that he regretted the decision of the Tigers and
that they should review their decision and to attend
talks..It is not possible to rebuild a country that is
economically devastated in no time. North and East of Sri
Lanka are awaiting much economic development."

"All the Sri Lankan governments are responsible for the
fate of North and East. US Ambassador stated that Tigers
are also responsible for the present economic position in
N&E. He said that Rome was not built in a day. Likewise it
is not possible to rebuild Kilinochchi or Trinco within a
day."

"It should be noted that there were many good results.
Therefore, the talks should continue with commitment for
the sake of peace and its benefits. In the meantime, the
Government should implement the decisions taken at the
previous talks."

***** Under the headline, "Talks must continue" independent
Tamil daily, THINAKKURAL comments (4/26), "From all corners
pressure is building up to commence the peace talks again."
Excerpts:

"No one needs to say that the ceasefire agreement is
broken. Necessity to put the peace program on correct track
is the order of the temporary suspension of talks. From all
corners pressure is building up to commence the peace talks
again."

"Liberation Tigers should not pull out of talks. They
should attend the Tokyo
Aid Conference. The decision to boycott the Tokyo Aid
Conference was regrettable. The Tigers want to be treated
respectfully. My government understands that, said the US
Ambassador Ashley Wills, which is the US stand."

"Not only the US Ambassador but also the US Deputy
Secretary of State Richard Armitage have expressed their

SIPDIS
views that the US government will not hesitate to lift the
ban on LTTE and accept them as a political group if they
renounce violence."

"The decision of the Liberation Tigers to pull out
temporarily from talks is appropriate. Thereafter they were
to boycott the SIHRN Sub Committee meeting
in Kilinochchi, which was to be attended by the government
officials and the
Norwegian diplomats..."

-----
Opinion
-----
4. ***** Under the headline, "Sound and fury and little
else," independent English weekly, Sunday Times' political
editor wrote, "Uncle Ashley Wills let [the LTTE] have it in
his interview with Reuters." Excerpts:

"..Others, however, have a different view. They argue that
foreign policy has never been the LTTE's forte, and by
taking on the United States of America by criticising them
for being left out of the Washington aid talks last week,
they were taken up by the bold resistance of possibly, the
Iraqi Baath Party."
"They invited trouble from Uncle Sam, and Uncle Ashly Wills
let them have it in his interview with Reuters. Lest the
Sri Lankan yakkos missed the US ambassador's comments, the
US embassy in Colombo circulated the full text to the local
media."

"And now, Anton Balasingham has responded with an interview
to Tamilnet and the LTTE has now got entangled with the US,
and one wonders whether the fate of Tareq Aziz would befall
Anton Balasingham. Surely not."
***** Government-owned English DAILY NEWS (4/26), headlined
its opinion page. "Way out of ethnic conflict is through
negotiations - US Envoy" and printed the full text of the
Ambassador's Reuters interview.
***** Government-owned English weekly, Sunday Observer
(4/27) ran "US ambassador's reaction to LTTE suspension of
peace talks : 'time for fighting has long passed'" on its
opinion page and included significant portions of the
Ambassador's interview.
***** Under the headline, "None of that crap, Bala"
typically skeptical opposition English weekly, ISLAND
SUNDAY opinion writer agrees with Ambassador Wills'
statements, noting "Forgive us, but that sounds kind of
right." (4/27). Excerpts:

"But let's stop the nit-picking, shall we. (For the benefit
of those who haven't been following our peace process
closely, any criticism of the LTTE is nit-picking and
betrays a shallow mind and supremely immature outlook)."
"US Ambassador Ashley Wills in a Reuters interview last
week aptly summarised the (long?) list of LTTE
transgressions. "Assassinations of opponents, intimidation
of Muslims, taxation without representation, aggressive Sea
Tiger behaviour and continued child recruitment," he
enumerated."
"Humph. Immature, nit-picking AMERICAN. Don't you think,
Bala?"
"But the international community is not pleased. Oh no. To
quote that American again, "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". Forgive us, but that sounds kind of right."

***** Under the headline "Economic growth dependent on
political and military stability," Pro-UNP English weekly,
SUNDAY LEADER (4/27), offered more opinion. Excerpts:

"...And the big boys in the world scene were telling the
LTTE, diplomatically, that they were not willing to play
ball and the status quo remained. However, the biggest
boost to the government and the biggest snub to the LTTE
came from the US. "We don't find them (LTTE) 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," Ambassador
Ashley Wills said last week... The Americans would create
most pressure for the LTTE. Most observers believe that if
the Tigers stick to their guns of insisting that they
boycott the Tokyo meeting, the US is very likely to exert
pressure."

Wills

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