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Cablegate: Media Play: The Latest On Sri Lanka's Political

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 COLOMBO 001953

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR INR/MR, I/RW, I/REC; PA
SA/INS (CAMP, DEAN, WALLER); SA/PD (REINCKENS, SCENSNY,
STRYKER); SSA/PAS

E.O.12958:N/A
TAGS: KPAO OPRC KMDR OIIP CE
SUBJECT: MEDIA PLAY: THE LATEST ON SRI LANKA'S POLITICAL
CRISIS

1. Summary. The Sri Lankan English and vernacular media's
intense scrutiny of the political stand-off between the
Prime Minister and the President continued. The Prime
Minister's decision to meet with the President dominated
the headlines in all languages. The reaction of political
players in Sri Lanka - from the Buddhist clergy to Muslim
and Tamil political parties - was self-interested.
Meanwhile, English and Tamil dailies fretted about donor
aid and the stock market's decline. Commentary on the
continuing political crisis was extensive. Government-
owned newspapers boldly supported the President and her
proposals on their editorial pages. Commenting on
terrorism in Sri Lanka, one independent English editor
wrote, "much more resolute commitment by foreign powers is
called for...." Tamil commentators were worried about the
fate of peace talks with the LTTE, especially with the
President leading them, as well as the stability of the
government. One Tamil daily wondered, "Will this lead to
war again?" Sinhala commentary focused more on the fate of
a national alliance for the government. End summary.

-----
Headlines
-----
2. The Sri Lankan English and vernacular media's intense
scrutiny of the political stand-off between the Prime
Minister and the President continued. Independent Sinhala
daily, LAKBIMA's headline (11/11), "President invites PM
for discussions," was echoed by many other newspapers and
television newscasts. Independent English DAILY MIRROR
reported (11/11), "130 MPs request Speaker to recall
Parliament immediately," while pro-LTTE Tamil daily, SUDAR
OLI's coverage was more conspiratorial (11/11), "Secret
talks with 7 MPs by PA to form government."
3. Reaction to this news was predictably split.
Independent English daily, ISLAND carried the Sinhala
nationalist flag with its headline (11/11), "Bhikku Front
lauds takeover of ministries," while pro-LTTE website
TAMILNET chastised (11/11), "SL President's lack of
sincerity will hamper peace efforts - TNA." Independent
English DAILY MIRROR carried the Prime Minister's message
(11/11), "Govt. - LTTE peace talks put off."
4. The Prime Minister's decision to meet with the
President dominated the headlines in all languages.
Independent Sinhala daily, DIVAINA reported the basics
(11/12), "Chandrika -Ranil discuss today." Meanwhile,
independent English DAILY MIRROR gave more of the story
(11/12), "UNF flatly rejects national govt., but PM will
meet President today to discuss crisis on peace process,"
and added another dimension to the parliamentary showdown,
"Huge bribes allegedly offered [to MPs]." Government owned
Tamil daily, THINAKARAN countered (11/12), "Only President
has the power to convene the parliament - MLA Hisbullah
MP."
5. The reaction of political players in Sri Lanka - from
the Buddhist clergy to Muslim and Tamil political parties -
was self-interested. Government-owned English DAILY NEWS'
headline focused on the President's proposed national
alliance (11/12), "Buddhist clergy praises President's
decision," while independent English daily, ISLAND reported
Muslim leader Rauf Hakeem's comments (11/12), "SLMC will do
its best to solve CBK-UNP Govt. crisis - Rauff ." Pro-LTTE
website TAMILNET sagely observed (11/12), "More
constitutional snags hit Sri Lanka's crisis," but
independent Maharaja Television's English newscasts (11/12)
reported Tamil National Alliance (TNA) comments that,
"Because the President did not honor previous MOUs, only
the Prime Minister can negotiate for peace with the Tamil
Tigers." Independent Tamil daily, VIRAKESARI added
(11/12), "Defense Ministry under the President, an obstacle
to peace talks - TNA informs Norwegian delegation."
6. Meanwhile, English and Tamil dailies fretted about
donor aid and the stock market's decline. Independent
Tamil daily, THINAKKURAL reported (11/11), "Danger of
foreign aid being delayed." Independent English daily,
ISLAND mourned (11/12), "Bourse loses more ground with no
positive political news," while independent English DAILY
MIRROR reported, "Stock market plunges further."
-----
Editorials
-----
7. Commentary on the continuing political crisis was
extensive. Government-owned newspapers boldly supported
the President and her proposals on their editorial pages.
Commenting on terrorism in Sri Lanka, one independent
English editor wrote, "much more resolute commitment by
foreign powers is called for...." Tamil commentators were
worried about the fate of peace talks with the LTTE,
especially with the President leading them, as well as the
stability of the government. One Tamil daily wondered,
"Will this lead to war again?" Sinhala commentary focused
more on the fate of a national alliance for the government.

----- Under the headline, "The essentials of national
reconciliation," government-owned English DAILY NEWS
commented (11/12), "So, while we wish the new, "grand
alliance" initiative all the success, it would be relevant
to remember that it would need to operate within a
conceptual framework which would make peace possible on a
power sharing basis."

Block quotes:
..The concept of what is popularly termed "a national
government" is likely to earn more backers, particularly
among Sri Lanka's minority communities...In our thinking,
such a solution could be predicated - among other principal
factors - on a power sharing arrangement between the Centre
and the Regions. These could be considered the basic
essentials of bringing peace.
However, the still-born year 2000 draft constitution,
essentially envisages the evolution of the Sri Lankan State
along power-sharing principles which take it far beyond our
controversy-ridden Provincial Councils scheme. In this
draft is encapsulated the concept of a Union of Regions
which would have served as a sound basis for negotiations
with the LTTE... So, while we wish the new, "grand
alliance" initiative all the success, it would be relevant
to remember that it would need to operate within a
conceptual framework which would make peace possible on a
power sharing basis. If not reconciliation would be a pipe
dream.
End block quotes.

-----Under the headline, "Election gives no answer to the
problem," government-owned Sinhala daily, DINAMINA
editorialized about elections and warned (11/12), "The
government will not be able to escape the curse of the
people who would suffer the extensive damage caused by
[them]."

Block quotes.
.The recent statement of Cabinet spokesperson on the need
for an election is quite confusing. The current crisis has
two alternatives- a snap election or a coalition
government. A national government as proposed by the
President would give a broader and stronger approach to
peace negotiations while an election would not give any
party a 2/3 majority and would take the political crisis
further. The government will not be able to escape the
curse of the people who would suffer the extensive damage
caused by [them].
End block quotes.

----- Under the headline, "Befuddled and bamboozled,"
independent English daily, ISLAND commented (11/11),
"Foreign involvement in the resolution of our terrorist
problem is welcome and has helped to a certain degree. But
the problem remains and if it is to be resolved a much more
resolute commitment by the foreign powers is called for."
Block quotes.
Political analysts are now suggesting greater involvement
of foreign powers in the resolution of our problem.
Certainly foreign powers have played a great role in
getting the 'Peace Process' going. The international
political climate against terrorism of all forms resulted
in pressure being built up against the LTTE to such a
degree that it alone made them sue for peace.
A greater role for India in bringing about a solution has
been suggested, particularly in view of the decision to
sign a defence agreement. There are also roles which
western powers, particularly the United States can play.
But if terrorism is to be eradicated from this island- the
basic solution to our problem-- much more active roles than
mere diplomatic support for 'a united and democratic Sri
Lanka' will have to come into play. Mere talk of '
unfurling of a security umbrella' becomes meaningless
unless there is a deep commitment to eliminate the basic
security threat to the nation.
Foreign involvement in the resolution of our terrorist
problem is welcome and has helped to a certain degree. But
the problem remains and if it is to be resolved a much more
resolute commitment by the foreign powers is called for.
Diplomatic efforts alone will not help...However, the
problem right now is the Ranil- Chandrika confrontation
which has left the country paralysed... The people right
now are befuddled and bamboozled.
End block quotes.

----- Under the headline, "Will peace last?" pro-LTTE
Tamil daily, SUDAR OLI commented (11/11), "Since the LTTE
had undergone bitter experiences with the PA and the
President earlier, it is very unlikely that they will come
for peace talks..."

Block quotes:
Since the LTTE had undergone bitter experiences with the PA
and the President earlier, it is very unlikely that they
will come for peace talks with PA VIPs such as Lakshman
Kadiragamar and Anura Bandaranaike. They will wait with
patience... In another fortnight the LTTE Heroes' Day will
be celebrated and we can know on that day the LTTE's stance
on the political crisis that has taken
place in the South.
End block quotes.

----- Under the headline, "Problems and efforts for
solutions," independent Tamil daily, VIRAKESARI observed
(11/12), "Peace talks are not a threat to the country. But,
if there are no peace talks there is a threat to the
country, eventually leading to the division of the
country."

Block quotes.
"All countries facing civil war are today trying to rebuild
their economies . The UNF government has accepted that the
proposals put forward by LTTE have basic differences, but
could be sorted out during talks and should not take hasty
decisions that could affect the peace process..The
President's action of taking over three ministries has put
the future of peace talks in question.

Peace talks are not a threat to the country. But, if there
are no peace talks there is a threat to the country,
eventually leading to the division of the country.
End block quotes.

----- Under the headline, "Conspiracy to topple the
government," independent Tamil daily, THINAKKURAL asked
(11/12) if the President's actions, "Will ...lead to war
again?"

Block quotes.
...Because of President's actions, a political crisis has
emerged, the peace efforts have been disturbed, and the
country's economy shows a downtrend. The crash of the
stock market and cancellation of reservations by tourists
are clear evidence. In the meantime the international
community, which had pledged financial support, is losing
faith. .Prorogation of the parliament is a step towards the
toppling of the government. Opposition efforts to buy the
government members at any cost is the order of the day.
Will this lead to war again?
End block quotes.

----- Under the headline, "A political matrimony must take
place," independent Sinhala daily, DIVAINA commented
(11/11), "It is the duty of the Government at this moment
to hand over state security to her, and proceed with the
peace process. If Sri Lanka's destiny demands a united
Sri Lanka then there should be a political matrimony
between the Prime Minister and the President."

Block quotes.
We do not understand how the take over of the Ministries
which were neglected would become a stumbling block to the
peace process. It is not realistic for the Government to
suddenly hand over the responsibilities of the peace
process to the President.

It is our opinion, if the Government hands over the peace
process to the President at this juncture, when she is not
expecting it, then it is to embarrass her that they are
trying to do so...It is the duty of the Government at this
moment to hand over state security to her, and proceed with
the peace process. If Sri Lanka's destiny demands a
united Sri Lanka then there should be a political matrimony
between the Prime Minister and the President.
End block quotes. LUNSTEAD

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