Cablegate: Media Play: (June 8) Tokyo Conference; Colombo
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
090525Z Jun 03
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 06 COLOMBO 000983
Department for D (Gastright), INR/MR, I/RW, I/REC,
SA (Camp, Waller), SA/PD (Brennig, Irwin, Scensny) SSA/PAS;
SSO (Pass to D); Tokyo (Hara, Bryan)
TAGS: KPAO OPRC KMDR OIIP CE LTTE
SUBJECT: MEDIA PLAY: (June 8) Tokyo Conference; Colombo
1. Summary. On the eve of the Tokyo Conference, a frenetic
Sri Lankan media was consumed with talk of an interim
administration for the north and east and the fate of donor
money sans LTTE participation. Tamil newspapers were
engrossed with Tokyo-related issues large and small - but
especially with donor money. Media sympathetic to the GSL
reiterated the Government`s ability to secure and
distribute aid money in typically sunny news and editorial
coverage. Opposition newspapers led with cohabitation
drama and offered predictably dour editorial comment.
Independent media coverage of Tokyo was skeptical and
prodded the government to "get on with it." One editorial
exhorted the Prime Minister to "go the whole hog" in his
attempt to "bring the Tigers into the mainstream of the Sri
Lankan polity." End summary.
2. LTTE statements and other Tamil reaction.
Tamil media was obsessed with every aspect of the Tokyo
Conference - right down to the seven airplane seats
reserved for the Tigers should they go to Japan. Two major
dailies' headlines were about expected aid money:
independent weekly VIRAKESARI wrote, "'As the Tigers are
not participating, it is expected that certain conditions
would be laid down in granting aid' - political observers,"
while state-owned weekly THINAKARAN VAARAMANJARI comforted,
" 'Aid for development would be spent as stipulated' -
Prime Minister assures." Independent Weekly SUNDAY
THINAKKURAL's lead story cautioned "Tokyo Conference in the
midst of doubts about the future of the peace talks."
Major independent Tamil daily VIRAKESARI's front page
reported on a variety of other issues: "Norwegian VIPs
will not attend the Conference," "President refuses to
meet Prime Minister - did not send any greetings for the
conference," "'India will not participate' - G. L. Peiris,"
and finally, "Seven Visas and seats were reserved for
Pro-LTTE website Tamilnet headlined (6/7), "Talks should be
based on concrete proposals - Balasingham."
Negotiations on an Interim Administration for the Northeast
could only begin once the Sri Lankan government had
produced a detailed draft of its proposals for such a body,
the Liberation Tigers said Friday. Discussions could only
proceed usefully on the basis of "specific and concrete"
proposals from Colombo, the LTTE's Chief Negotiator and
Political Advisor, Mr. Anton Balasingham, told TamilNet
when asked about press reports suggesting the government
had agreed to the establishment of an Interim
End block quote.
Although Tamil editorialists did not write about Tokyo
today, extensive editorial comment is expected on Tuesday
Under the headline, "Interim administrative mechanism for
NE imperative," independent, but pro-UNP English weekly
SUNDAY LEADER ran an interview on its opinion page with
Senior Vice President, Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF)
and Batticaloa District Member of Parliament, Joseph
.Pararajasingham says the government's position, that an
interim administration should be established within the
parameters of the constitution cannot be justified when
the ceasefire agreement itself was framed outside the
constitution. He said if the ceasefire agreement that was
drafted outside the constitution has paved the way for
solid peace in the country, he cannot see any reason why
the government cannot do the same thing to set up the
interim administration and give the LTTE a legal body
through which it could have a politico- administrative and
decision making body to play a dominant role in the
administration. "If there is a will there is a way. I also
think the problem faced by the government from the
executive is also preventing them from fulfilling the
demands of the LTTE," he told The Sunday Leader in an
Q: Do you see any justification in the LTTE's continuous
refusal to accept proposals put forward by Premier
Wickremesinghe in regard to the interim administration?
A: There is sufficient reason for the LTTE to refuse what
was offered by the Prime Minister, taking into
consideration the past experience and the history of this
country in regard to the ethnic issue. You see, the LTTE,
which was fighting for a separate state and was in a
formidable position in terms of war, unilaterally declared
a ceasefire and also signed a Memorandum of Understanding
with the government because they felt the sufferings of the
Tamil people had to be alleviated.
They are now firmly committed to a negotiated settlement.
They have taken part in six rounds of talks. What was
promised during the talks has not been implemented. So the
LTTE has real suspicion about the present proposal. They
feel it is difficult to overcome red tape and bureaucracy
through the setting up of the apex body. So they think any
tangible implementation on the ground has to be through a
structure, which will give the LTTE a politico-
administrative and decision making body where they would be
allowed to play a dominant role. Therefore the proposals
submitted by the Prime Minister do not in any way answer
the demands of the LTTE. That falls very short of their
Q: Many experts, including foreign diplomats say that peace
cannot be achieved if the Tigers are so rigid. How do you
view their statements?
A: It is wrong to say that the Tigers are rigid in their
demands. As I explained earlier, first of all the
sufferings of the Tamil people have to be removed. That can
only be achieved by restructuring and relocating the
displaced people and rehabilitating them. It also includes
rehabilitating the war torn north east. In this respect
they need a very formidable and a very strong set up to
administer the region. Their demand which is to alleviate
the suffering of the people, cannot be considered as
something that is rigid.
Q: Why do you think the government is reluctant to give
what the LTTE wants?
A: Well I think it is because of the non-cooperation of the
executive that the government is unable to fulfill the
demands of the LTTE. The government feels that any interim
administrative structure should be within the parameters of
the constitution. But what I would like to remind the
government is this. When the ceasefire agreement was signed
between the government and the LTTE there was no basis for
it within the laws of Sri Lanka. It was an extra
constitutional instrument on which the country's peace has
withstood for more than 15 months and it has laid a solid
foundation for peace. Why can't the government apply the
same process in formulating an interim administrative
structure outside the constitution like the ceasefire
My personal opinion is that the Tamils are fully justified
in asking for an extra constitutional interim mechanism to
rebuild and rehabilitate the north east because they never
accepted the constitution the Britishers left behind in
1948, the 1972 constitution and the 1978 constitution which
concentrated the legislative, financial and judicial
affairs of the island in the hands of the majority of the
country. Therefore I think the LTTE's demand in asking for
a interim administrative structure is reasonable and
justifiable, where they could play a dominant role
politically, administratively and financially.
Q: The general perception is that the LTTE would
participate at tomorrow's donor conference. How do you see
it? Do you think failure to participate would be
disadvantageous to the LTTE?
A: The LTTE's leadership in the latest reply to Prime
Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has clearly stated that if an
assurance is given that a draft framework for an interim
administrative structure along the lines proposed by the
LTTE leadership is given by the Prime Minister they would
resume negotiations. So the ball is now in the government's
Until today the Prime Minister has not responded to the
request made by the LTTE leadership. Therefore one can be
convinced that their participation in the Tokyo conference
is not possible. To answer the other question, this donor
conference is not only for the rebuilding of the war torn
north east region. This conference is also a part of the
annual aid consortium for the government. If the donor
countries are really interested in rebuilding,
rehabilitating and restructuring the war ravaged north
eastern region I don't think there is any reason for them
to not dole out funds for this humanitarian aspect whether
the LTTE participates or not. Participation of the LTTE
should not be taken as a primary concern for the donors not
to dole out money for the humanitarian projects facing the
war torn areas in the north east.
End block quotes.
3. GSL statements and pro-government reaction.
Media sympathetic to the GSL offered predictably sunny
Tokyo coverage. Newspaper and television lead stories
reiterated the government `s ability to secure and
distribute aid money and noted the Prime Minister's plans
for an interim administration.
Independent and state-owned television stations reported
Chief Negotiator for the Peace Process and Cabinet
Spokesman G.L. Peiris' comments that there will be no
change in the level of aid pledged to Sri Lanka, despite
the Tigers' absence in Tokyo. State-owned ITN television
elucidated that aid levels will stay the same because the
trust that international community has placed in the
Government of Sri Lanka remains unchanged.
Newspapers also focused on the money. Independent English
weekly SUNDAY TIMES headlined, "`We-can-spend' theme at
Tokyo." State-owned English weekly SUNDAY OBSERVER
observed, "Aid pledges on track," while sister Sinhala
weekly SILUMINA noted, "Comprehensive development plan for
tomorrow's Tokyo confab - Funds to be disbursed for
immediate projects." Independent, but pro-UNP English
weekly SUNDAY LEADER exclaimed, "PM to announce interim set
Under the headline,"Hope," Government-owned English weekly
SUNDAY OBSERVER's editors commented that despite the
problems with the peace process, "the Tokyo donor parley
Most important is the fact that while the negotiating
process is in suspense right now, the overall peace effort
remains on track. Both parties have clearly and
substantively demonstrated their complete lack of desire to
resort to military action again to achieve their political
goals. If the LTTE has been careful to make this clear to
the whole world, the Government's own, positive, non-
belligerent posture on the current impasse has demonstrated
its own commitment to peace.
That is why the Tokyo donor parley signals progress despite
the current problem. Now, all efforts must be made towards
fulfilling the requisites for overcoming the impasse. If
the critical problem being raised by the LTTE leadership is
their exclusion from certain aspects and activities of the
peace process, then every step must be taken to ensure that
such exclusion does not occur in the future.
The setting up of an institutional mechanism that will
structurally involve the LTTE in the post-war recovery
process in the North-East will go far not only to ensure
that organisation's continued participation in the
negotiations but also to guarantee the re-integration of
whole areas of the country that have been pushed outside
the national mainstream by the war.
End block quotes
4. Opposition statements and pro-opposition reaction.
Opposition newspapers led with cohabitation drama and Tokyo
money headlines. Editorial comment was typically dour and
concentrated on the untrustworthiness of the LTTE.
Independent, but nationalist-leaning English weekly ISLAND
SUNDAY cried, "CBK snubs Japan: refuses statement backing
confab," but softened the blow and placed "Mood in Tokyo
optimistic: GL" alongside it. Sister paper Sinhala DIVAINA
headlined, "Confab promising 10,000 Kouti [100 lakhs] per
annum is tomorrow."
State-owned ITN television reported on a meeting between
USAID Deputy Administrator Fred Schieck and opposition
leader Mahinda Rajapakse, in which both men noted that
Tokyo Conference aid could be used for development
activities in the south as well as the north and east.
--- Under the headline, "The doubt that will not down," the
nationalist-leaning English weekly ISLAND SUNDAY's editors
asked whether the LTTE "will use some of that money to
further militarize for the ultimate putsch."
If the LTTE calculated that their brinkmanship will result
in the Tokyo meeting being postponed till such time as they
were willing to talk turkey, they made a grievous error. As
we have reported on our front page today, the mood in the
Japanese capital was optimistic yesterday and there was
reason to expect that they will not come down on any
pledges they planned to make merely because Prabhakaran and
Balasingham have played hard to get. Nevertheless, it must
be freely conceded that there is no doubt that the LTTE's
presence would have made a tangible difference certainly to
the level of global confidence that the peace process is
not just on track but heading in the right direction. The
absence of one party must necessarily create doubts and
that is the hard reality that we must swallow. It is to be
hoped that Sri Lanka's foreign friends don't merely proffer
carrots but also use some stick in Tokyo. The US has
certainly been helpful up to now with Ambassador Ashley
Wills being outspoken in much of what he has said in
Colombo about Tiger behaviour. It's a pity that he is
ending his assignment here shortly. Hopefully his successor
will understand the situation as well as he has.
Finally it must be said that if the kind of money that is
being spoken about is obtained from the donor community, we
have to get our act together in efficiently utilizing such
The LTTE certainly has a point that government's delivery
of whatever has been on offer to the war devastated areas
has been pathetically poor. We certainly have no doubt that
given their summary methods ("shoot the rogues"), the
Tigers will do a better job of getting the reconstruction
and rehabilitation work done much more efficiently than the
government. But the doubt that will not down is whether
they will use some of that money to further militarize for
the ultimate putsch.
End block quotes.
--- Sister paper DIVAINA's editorial headline, "Interim
admin bait," asserts that the Tigers do not want funds "for
the development of the north and east. it is for the
benefit of a handful [of Tiger leaders]."
"It is surprising that everybody is making such a
tremendous effort to get the participation of a world's
most brutal terrorist organization at the aid conference...
How can they be treated on equal terms with a democratic
government? Will the monies be snatched by the Tigers who
claim to be representing the marginalized Tamil communities
in the north and east? At the end of the day it is those
who suffer who will have to pay back these debts...
"The LTTE is shredding crocodile tears for the Tamils .but
are not prepared to lay down their arms, to renounce
"Any wise person will realize that the Tigers have vested
interests. We know that Anton Balasingham is not working
with genuine interest-he wants the money not for the
development of the north and east.it is for the benefit of
a handful of [Tiger leaders]."
5. Independent media reaction
Independent media coverage of Tokyo was skeptical. A
subheadline in independent Sinhala weekly LANKADEEPA's
headline asked, "Are tigers getting ready for another
fiasco after declaring non participation in the confab?"
Editorial commentary exhorted the government to address the
LTTE's integration into Sri Lankan politics and corruption.
--- Under the editorial headline, "Tell It Like It Is,"
independent but pro-UNP English weekly SUNDAY LEADER
pressed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to "go the
whole hog" in his attempt to "genuinely to bring the Tigers
into the mainstream of the Sri Lankan polity."
Clearly, the rose which Wickremesinghe calls an 'apex
body' does not smell as sweet to Balasingham as an 'interim
administration.' The nuance, though lost on the LTTE's
Chief Negotiator, is not irrelevant. "In rejecting
Wickremesinghe's elaborately-worded offer of an apex
committee to oversee north east development, Balasingham
did not mince his words. He pointed to the inefficiency and
corruption of the administration in words that must have
made the Premier wince. And the tragedy is, every word is
If Wickremesinghe is serious in his attempt genuinely to
bring the Tigers into the mainstream of the Sri Lankan
polity, and not just play for time until the rebels are
weak enough to demolish militarily (which they might
justifiably suspect is his plan), he must match his words
with action. The LTTE must be given incentives to join the
political mainstream and involving them in an interim
administration is the key to this.
In its 2001 manifesto, the UNF promised an interim
administration for the north and east. Now, Wickremesinghe
is edging away from that ideal, talking about some nebulous
committee. This will not do. At some point in a nation's
history, statesmen, not political fudgers, have to take
strong decisions. That's what leadership is about. Polls
have shown that the overwhelming majority of Sri Lankans as
a whole and the Tamils as a group, are in favour of a
negotiated settlement. It showed that over 90 per cent of
Tamils were in favour of a federal solution. If that is not
the surest message that the demand for a separate state is
a thing of the past, what is?
Wickremesinghe has committed the nation to peace, the
welfare of the Tamil people, a negotiated settlement and
the transfer of significant political authority to the
LTTE. He must go the whole hog.
Ranil Wickremesinghe must take the nation (including the
LTTE) into his confidence. There is simply no point in
elaborate wordplay and a deft euphemism: that will fool no
one. Let's dispense with the committees and red tape and
get down to business. Even if he can't do it, surely he can
tell it like it is.
End block quotes.
--- Under the headline, "Get on with it," independent
English weekly SUNDAY TIMES calls on the government to
address both the LTTE and corruption, "the foreign monies
pumped into the system must trickle down to as many
ordinary people as possible if all this hullabaloo about
the Tokyo 'aid' conference is to be meaningful to the
ordinary folks at home."
The LTTE has made a spectacle of itself to the
international community. It has not been able to resolve
the power-struggle between those who want a negotiated
settlement, and the military-wing mandarins who see their
own spheres of influence waning if there is a transition to
While the LTTE sorts itself out, however, the Government
must keep an eye on its own defence mechanism. Irrespective
of the LTTE's own idiosyncrasies of the moment, the
Government must get on with it, and forge a coherent policy
that concentrates on the economic development of the entire
In this backdrop of events, the Government will need to be
cautious that reeking corruption in high places and
monopolies by a handful of people, who are siphoning their
profits to bank accounts overseas, does not boomerang on
itself by way of social disorder and revolution.
And for now, there must be accelerate job creation through
public investment projects; more ordinary people need more
money in their hands- and all the foreign monies pumped
into the system must trickle down to as many ordinary
people as possible if all this hullabaloo about the Tokyo
'aid' conference is to be meaningful to the ordinary folks
at home, in the first place.
End block quotes.