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Cablegate: Media Play: Sri Lanka's Political Crisis Continues

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 001980

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: SRI LANKA'S POLITICAL CRISIS CONTINUES


1. Summary. Over the weekend, English and vernacular media
headlines focused on reaction to Norway's recent comments
about the Sri Lankan Government's political crisis and
their impact on the peace process. The President's
comments also made splashy headlines. Meanwhile, media
reports of the Prime Minister's stance were varied.
Speculation about Sri Lanka's security situation and the
economic impact of the political crisis continued to
generate interest. Editorial reaction was extensive in
both the English and vernacular press. English
commentators covered a variety of topics. Several urged
civil society to take a more active role in the political
crisis. One daily commented, "The time has ... come for
the civil society to wake up and... prevent the power-
hungry politicians from pushing the country to the brink of
disaster." Others commented on ways to break the political
impasse, the need for unbiased facilitators, and chastised
the President. For the most part, Sinhala commentators
urged cooperation between parties, while a few wondered if
elections were the next step. One Sinhala daily warned,
"We emphasize to the President and PM that they should not
try to politically defeat each other." Tamil editors were
divided. Some were vehemently opposed to cohabitation,
while others, including the government-owned Tamil daily,
were much more positive about a national government. End
summary.

-----
Headlines
-----

2. English and vernacular media headlines focused on
Norway's recent comments about the Sri Lanka Government's
political crisis and its impact on the peace process.
Independent English DAILY MIRROR reported (11/15), "Norway
suspends facilitation." Independent Sinhala daily, DIVAINA
added (11/15), "Norway silent on peace process and CFA
until the crisis is solved," while independent Tamil daily,
THINAKKURAL noted (11/15), "Norway halts facilitation until
political crisis is settled." Independent English
daily, ISLAND elucidated (11/15), "Peace process difficult
to sustain in a political vacuum - Helgessen."
Independent and government-owned television and radio
stations echoed these headlines (11/14). Government-owned
print media sang a happier song. Government-owned English
DAILY NEWS reported (11/15), "We won't abandon peace
process, says Helgesen," while its sister paper,
government-owned Tamil daily, THINAKARAN soothed (11/15),
"No intention of dropping peace process - Norway."

3. Reaction to Norway's announcement was swift.
Independent English weekly, SUNDAY LEADER's headlines
carried LTTE and TNA reaction (11/16), "LTTE shocked at
Norway's exit," and, "LTTE, TNA will not deal with CBK."
Independent Tamil weekly, THINAKKURAL headlined (11/16),
"America upset over Norway's announcement; insist that
President and Prime Minister jointly strengthen the peace
efforts." Independent Sinhala daily LAKBIMA echoed the
conciliatory part of the US message (11/17), "Government
and President should forget all differences and get
together - urges America.'

4. The President's comments made splashy headlines all
weekend. Independent English DAILY MIRROR reported
(11/15), "President wants national gov. for one year,"
while independent English daily, ISLAND (11/15) quoted,
"Let Ranil continue - Chandrika." Independent Sinhala
daily, LANKADEEPA's headline allowed the President to
clarify (11/15), "I did not call CFA illegal; balance of
the peace process to Ranil." Independent Tamil weekly,
VIRAKESARI continued (11/16), "If no to national
government, elections; no obstacles to peace; Defense
Ministry will not be handed over - President." Meanwhile,
Government-owned Tamil daily, THINAKARAN went all out to
comfort readers (11/15), "President invites joint efforts
of both parties to continue peace process without any party
differences; no hindrance from the defense forces; prepared
to give full responsibility on peace; can form a group
inclusive of Norwegians; prepared to give a written
assurance."

5. Media reports of the Prime Minister's stance were
varied. Independent English DAILY MIRROR offered (11/15),
"PM offers to back CBK in continuing peace process, " but
independent English daily, ISLAND reported (11/15), "Ranil
calls it quits." Independent English weekly, SUNDAY TIMES
came up with another message entirely (11/16), "PM will
support 'National Front': French-style compromise proposed
for defence matters."

6. Sri Lanka's security situation continued to generate
interest. Independent English daily, ISLAND reported
(11/15), "All quiet in the N-E despite crisis - Monitors."
Independent English DAILY MIRROR's headline was calm
(11/15), "President orders Armed Forces to maintain
ceasefire," while independent Tamil weekly, VIRAKESARI was
slightly more hawkish (11/16), "Our objective is peace that
assures security -President to Financial Times."
Independent English DAILY MIRROR's headline looked abroad
for security (11/17), "Indian army on alert over Lankan
crisis," and independent Tamil daily, THINAKKURAL, added
(11/17), "Vajpai orders Indian Army to be vigilant on Sri
Lanka."

7. The economic impact of the political crisis and Norway's
actions also made the headlines. Independent English DAILY
MIRROR noted (11/15), "Dissolution talk, Norway pull out
hit stock market." Independent English daily, ISLAND
mourned (11/15), "Bourse plunges on negative political
sentiment, " and independent English weekly, SUNDAY TIMES
observed (11/16), "Colombo stocks gyrate to political
beat." Independent English weekly, SUNDAY LEADER
cautioned (11/16), "Political uncertainty leading investors
elsewhere."

-----
Editorials
-----

8. Editorial reaction was extensive in both the English
and vernacular press. English commentators covered a
variety of topics. Several urged civil society to take a
more active role in the political crisis, while others
commented on ways to break the political impasse, the need
for unbiased facilitators, and chastised the President.
For the most part, Sinhala commentators urged cooperation
between parties, while a few wondered if elections were the
next step. Tamil editors were divided. Some were
vehemently opposed to cohabitation, while others, including
the government-owned Tamil daily, were much more positive
about a national government.

----- Under the headline, "Prabhakaran joins orchestra,"
independent English DAILY MIRROR commented (11/15), "The
time has ... come for the civil society to wake up and...
prevent the power-hungry politicians from pushing the
country to the brink of disaster."

Excerpts.
The time has ... come for the civil society to wake up and
do whatever possible to prevent the power-hungry
politicians from pushing the country to the brink of
disaster. There are ... some organizations that continue
to remain uncontaminated by narrow party politics....
The Organization of Professional Associations (OPA) is one
such organization.... There are also business sector
chambers and associations that remain above party politics
and offer advice for the country's progress. These
organizations now have to intervene in the affairs of the
state in a more active and dynamic manner. They should go
even to the extent of exerting whatever power they have, to
pressurize the political parties to deviate from their
narrow partisan pursuits and objectives and to act in the
country's larger interests.
End excerpts.


----- Under the headline, "Mechanisms," Government-owned
English weekender SUNDAY OBSERVER commented (11/16), "As
the politicians quarrel, the citizens must act."

Excerpts.
There is inadequate coordinated and sustained action by
civil society in all its forms -- from social action
groups, community organizations and civic lobbies to
business chambers and trade unions -- to bring pressure to
bear on the two parties and their leaders to concretely
manifest all their rhetoric about 'cohabitation' and
'cooperation'. As the politicians quarrel, the citizens
must act. Otherwise, a permanent peace on this island,
whether the result of a negotiated partition or a re-
integrated State, either federal or confederal, is only a
remote hope, a distant dawn.
End excerpts.

----- Under the headline, "Damage Control," independent
English weekender SUNDAY ISLAND commented (11/16), "One
possible way out of the impasse may be to appoint a defense
minister acceptable to both leaders ... or a small war (or
rather peace) cabinet in which both the president and the
prime minister will sit."

Excerpts.
One possible way out of the impasse may be to appoint a
defense minister acceptable to both leaders ... or a small
war (or rather peace) cabinet in which both the president
and the prime minister will sit. It will be responsible
for mapping out the strategy to be followed in the peace
process and responding to the country's defense and
security needs. The fact that the LTTE wishes to do
business with Wickremesinghe does not mean that he and he
alone should conduct that business. All the more reason
that Kumaratunga whom the Tigers want to distance from the
process, must also have a role.
End excerpts.
----- Under the headline, "Why the Peace Bandwagon is
stalled," independent English daily ISLAND commented that
until (11/15), "unbiased negotiators are brought in, the
Peace Bandwagon will remain stalled."

Excerpts.
The peace process has been stalled because the President
and the prime minister have locked horns and unless they
reach consensus on what can be offered to the people of the
north and east no resolution to the problem is possible....
Until these main issues are resolved and unbiased
negotiators are brought in, the Peace Bandwagon will remain
stalled.
End excerpts.

----- Under the headline, "CBK Disarray ," independent
English weekly, SUNDAY LEADER complained (11/16), "By
acting the goat, [the President] has made an ass of herself
and landed her party in a complete pickle."
Excerpts.
So the President faces Hobson's choice. She cannot
preserve the status quo and govern; neither can she call an
election and hope to come close to victory. She had
another two years to go before her term expired, and a lot
of time to let the UNF make mistakes on which she would
have capitalized politically. By acting as she has done,
she has got her party's knickers in a twist and dashed its
electoral hopes. By acting the goat, she has made an ass
of herself and landed her party in a complete pickle.
End excerpts.

----- Under the headline, "Sit only to serve," independent
Sinhala daily, DIVAINA commented (11/15), "We emphasize to
the President and PM that they should not try to
politically defeat each other."

Excerpts.
Norway has left. The PM is not willing to handle the peace
process. The President is left alone to face the challenge
she created on her own. But the PM is not as pessimistic
as the Norwegians...The need for a leader [to sit at peace
talks] who is against a separate state, but who does
believe in a political solution was felt by all. All these
issues raise a question about the impartiality of the
Norwegians, and their fairness... We emphasize to the
President and PM that they should not try to politically
defeat each other.
End excerpts.


----- Under the headline, "Is an election the next step,"
independent Sinhala weekly, SUNDAY LAKBIMA observed
(11/17), "an election has become an option, because both
parties have worked toward that."

Excerpts.
Neither party needs an election right now. We've already
said that. But an election has become an option, because
both parties have worked toward that. Both parties want the
whole pound of flesh. But it is the public who has to pay
the price. Everybody's voting rights have to be used to
usher democracy to a few."
End excerpts.


----- Under the headline, "National reconciliation: the
biggest political joke," independent Tamil weekly,
THINAKKURAL, observed (11/16), "National and national
feelings are dead in this country. It will be only a
political comedy if the ruling party and the Opposition to
join together."

Excerpts.
The current political crisis in the South has led to a
power struggle, which in turn has affected the peace
process adversely. Since there is no time limit for the
resumption of the peace talks, the responsibility to resume
the peace talks lies with the UNF Government and other
Southern political forces... The LTTE has been very firm in
their stance once again. The President has stepped in and
trying to be a partner in the peace politics, extending an
invitation to form a Government of National Reconciliation.
As regards the Prime Minister, he and his government are
not supporting this move, which they consider as a
political mirage. Even if it is formed it will be a joint
alliance of the Sinhalese parties and not a national
alliance. National and national feelings are dead in this
country. It will be only a political comedy if the ruling
party and the Opposition to join together.
End excerpts.

----- Under the headline, "Political Crisis of the South
and Peace Talks," independent Tamil daily, VIRAKESARI,
commented (11/15), "If the country wants peace the
political crisis in the South should be amicably solved, on
which the future of the talks heavily depend."


Excerpts.
LTTE Leader V. Prabaharan has made his commitment for peace
public and has said that peace talks should resume
immediately but it depends on the political situation in
the South. . Although committed to peace, the government is
unable to proceed because of President's actions and that
she should carry forward the peace process says the Prime
Minister. What should be the priority, National Government
or peace talks? . UNF government's actions were very clear
from redeeming the country from war situation and leading
towards economic freedom, prosperity and development. .
National Government issue is only a ploy by the President
to disrupt peace process and is not a solution to country's
problem accuses the government. So, who would go ahead with
the peace process? Prime Minister promises support for
President to continue the peace process. . Chances of
finding a solution for peace are slipping away. . The
President and the political parties of the South that
propagate chauvinism should take the full blame if peace
talks fail. . If the country wants peace the political
crisis in the South should be amicably solved, on which the
future of the talks heavily depend.
End excerpts.

LUNSTEAD

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