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Cablegate: Batticaloa Generally Calm Despite Recent

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

UNCLAS COLOMBO 001973

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR INR/MR,
SA/INS, SA/PD SSA/PAS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: PREL PHUM PTER OIIP EAID KPAO CE LTTE
SUBJECT: Batticaloa Generally Calm Despite Recent
Incidents Nearby; Eastern and Southeastern Universities
Tranquil But Longing for Assistance

1. (U) SUMMARY: A recent trip to the Eastern Sri Lankan
cities of Batticaloa and Oluvil by PAO and CAO revealed
them to be generally calm, despite previous shootings not
far from Batticaloa and skirmishes in the more northern
city of Trincomalee after the November 27 Heroes' Day
speech. Students at both Eastern University in Batticaloa
and at South-Eastern University in Oluvil (a predominantly
Muslim town) appeared more concerned about their exams and
lack of resources than about current political tensions.
End Summary.

2. (U) During a recent trip to visit Eastern University in
Batticaloa and South-Eastern University in the small
coastal town of Oluvil, PAO and CAO spoke with university
officials, students, and a prominent advisor to the local
Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission about the political situation
in the East. The previous weeks had witnessed a number of
incidents, including politically motivated shootings, in
the Batticaloa district, and the visit took place
immediately following skirmishes in the northeastern port
of Trincomalee after ceremonies marking the annual Tamil
Tigers' Heroes' Day. The city appeared generally calm,
with LTTE Heroes' day banners and flags festooned at key
intersections and temples. (Note: the trip ended before a
series of violent incidents occurred in the Batticaloa area
the week of December 6. End note). Eastern university
students were attending classes normally, and deans and
faculty reported no unusual tension in the city, despite
the continuing rift between former LTTE Eastern commander
Karuna and Tiger chief Prabkharan.

3. (SBU) Emboffs also met in Batticaloa with Father
Miller, a Jesuit priest resident in the town for 50 years
and a prominent advisor to the local office of the Sri
Lankan Monitoring Mission. Miller asserted that most
residents of the city were happy Karuna had split from
Prabakharan in April, particularly merchants who were no
longer paying the LTTE taxes. He added that the LTTE had
tried several times to re-open offices it once had on many
street corners, but refrained from doing so when the local
police refused to guarantee them protection from Karuna
cadres. Miller, who has had his own run-ins with the LTTE
over collection of taxes on a coconut palm farm his order
operates, felt support for Karuna remained quite strong in
the region. Army checkpoints encountered while driving
throughout the city appeared relatively lax.

4. (U) Southeastern University lies in the small, largely
Muslim town of Oluvil, approximately a two-hour drive south
of Batticaloa on narrow, pitted roads. The 10 year-old
university, set on a campus outside the main town, was
placid the morning of emboffs' visit. Post selected this
university as the site of our second American Corner in Sri
Lanka (after Kandy) in order to reach a segment of the
population enjoying very little contact with Americans or
American culture. Many students were initially suspicious
of USG intentions in setting up an American corner, but
following our explanations of what it entailed they
understood it to be simply a benign section of the library
where students could find out more about the United States.
The university administration fully backed the
establishment of the corner.

5. (U) COMMENT: While sporadic violence continues in the
Batticaloa district, no large-scale skirmishes such as
occurred in Jaffna and Trincomalee recently have taken
place, and the city seems relatively calm. In the coming
months, security permitting, post plans to program cultural
events and visits more often in the East to keep in better
touch with that poor, and sometimes neglected, part of the
country. End Comment.
Lunstead

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