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Cablegate: Ambassador and Ofda Director Visit to Batticaloa,

VZCZCXRO9043
OO RUEHBI RUEHLMC
DE RUEHLM #0927/01 1800403
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 290403Z JUN 07
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6371
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 3220
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 5336
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 0248
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 7231
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 3872
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 1150
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO 3945
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA 1151
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 3029
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 7819
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 5475
RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO 0283
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 2171

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 COLOMBO 000927

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INS AND PRM
STATE ALSO PASS TO USAID
AID/W FOR ANE/SAA
AID/W FOR DCHA/OFDA FOR RTHAYER AND BDEEMER
BANGKOK FOR OFDA TDOLAN
KATHMANDU FOR OFDA WBERGER
USMISSION GENEVA FOR KYLOH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PINS PREF PGOV EAID CE
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR AND OFDA DIRECTOR VISIT TO BATTICALOA,
SRI LANKA

SUBJECT: OFDA Assessment of Sri Lanka IDP Situation

REF: (A) COLOMBO 0854, (B) COLOMBO 0390
1. (SBU) Summary: OFDA recently completed a mission to Sri
Lanka that was highlighted by the participation of OFDA
Director, Ky Luu. While in Sri Lanka Mr. Luu, along with
the Ambassador and USAID Director, spent two days in
Batticaloa District assessing the situation of IDPs and
returnees. The team found that overall there was
improvement in the GSL return process. Director Luu
indicated that if the GSL honors its agreement to the OFDA
conditions concerning NGO access to IDPs and returnees,
additional OFDA resources would be provided to Sri Lanka
through OFDA?s NGO, IO, and UN partners. End Summary

-----------
Background
-----------

2. (SBU) Recently, with the cooperation of the Karuna
forces, the Sri Lankan Army has driven LTTE forces out of
Eastern districts with the exception of a relatively small
but significant jungle area around Thopigala. Estimates of
the number of LTTE cadres still in the jungle range from
150 to 500. Those forces that remain still have the
potential to interfere with the GSL?s return program
through acts of violence and intimidation. Nevertheless,
the GSL is pressing ahead with the goal of returning and
resettling all who have been displaced by fighting in the
East. UNHCR maintained that part of the earlier phase of
the IDP?s return in Vakarai was done by force and coercion.

---------------------
Humanitarian Dilemma
---------------------

3. (SBU) The lack of planning for resettlement, the forced
returns, the denial of access by NGOs to resettled areas,
and the environment of impunity in areas of the East have
caused the international community to be caught in a
dilemma between Principled Programming (the desire not to
be co-opted into supporting unsafe returns) and the
Humanitarian Imperative (the need to stay engaged with the
GSL in order to serve and protect IDPs who are at risk).
International organizations feel that they are not treated
as partners by the GSL and are being used as pawns in the
government?s military strategy. They feel the GSL seems to
willfully ignore its own humanitarian obligations and lacks
respect for the mandates of the humanitarian actors in Sri
Lanka. Still, most feel that there is a gradual trend of
improvement in GSL operations in support of resettlement
and humanitarian needs. This, balanced against the
suffering that would be caused if they withdrew, is enough
for now to keep the humanitarian community engaged in
trying to work with the government to assist those in need.

----------------------------
Protection through Presence
----------------------------

4. (SBU) In Sri Lanka, humanitarian agencies are struggling
mightily against great odds to pursue a strategy of
?protection by presence,? based on the hope that the mere
presence of international humanitarian workers on-location

COLOMBO 00000927 002 OF 005


can provide a degree of protection to IDPs and returnees.
Given the atmosphere of impunity that exists in the East,
NGO presence is not, in and of itself, sufficient to
provide security. Because of this, some NGOs feel that
their presence might give a false sense of security to
returnees.

------------------------------------
What Is ?Safe and Voluntary? Return?
------------------------------------

5. (SBU) There agreement between the GSL and the
humanitarian community in Sri Lanka that IDPs should return
home as soon as possible. There is, however, a gap between
the Government?s actions and the humanitarian norms
supported by the international community. Sri Lanka has
the highest IDP population in Asia. In its rush to lose
this title and the international scorn that comes with it,
the Government risks greater damage to its international
standing through an ad hoc resettlement process. The
international community, including the U.S. Mission, is
trying to help bring the GSL to an awareness that a return
without planning for adequate services risks not only makes
the resettlement process unsustainable but could create
antipathies in the resettled Tamil communities that would
create a environment of dissatisfaction, inadvertently
creating enemies behind GSL front lines. (Comment: The
Ambassador raised these issues at the last meeting of the
Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Access (CCHA). This
could significantly contribute to the already improving
trend of GSL?s resettlement program. End Comment)


-------------
OFDA Mission
-------------

6. (SBU) With these issues in mind, OFDA recently completed
a mission to Sri Lanka to assess the current situation and
the requirements and conditions for additional OFDA
support. OFDA Regional Advisor Bill Berger made his third
trip to Sri Lanka this year. His twenty-one day mission
began May 20. He was joined for ten days beginning May 25
by Jeff Drumtra, OFDA?s IDP Specialist. The mission
culminated with the visit of OFDA?s Director, Ky Luu, from
June 2 -6. While in Sri Lanka, Mr. Luu spent two days in
the field along with the Ambassador and USAID Mission
Director. Mr. Luu held extensive meetings with NGOs,
INGOs, IOs, and the UN agencies and visited IDPs and
returnees in the Batticaloa District. While in Batticaloa,
the team visited Kurukalmadam IDP Transit Site, Eruvil
Thodam Camp, Kovilkulam Camp, and returnee sites in SW
Batticaloa District (Ref A).

7. (SBU) In a press release following the trip, Mr. Luu
noted improvements in the recent resettlement of IDPs and
said that the United States would be willing to provide
support to newly resettled communities within the context
of a safe and dignified return. He emphasized the need for
humanitarian access, stating that ?the UN and international
relief agencies must have timely access to repatriated
villages in order to help assuage fears relayed by
villagers that they are unaware of the conditions in
villages where they are set to return, whether their former

COLOMBO 00000927 003 OF 005


homes are still standing, where they will have the means to
support themselves, and whether they will have essential
services?. He added: ?I am encouraged that services for
returnees have improved in the past few months. We
encourage the government to give timely access to NGOS and
UN agencies, assisting them in providing essential services
and sharing necessary information to returnees.?

8. (SBU) Concerning additional OFDA assistance, he said if
the GSL granted access to NGOs in a timely fashion, ?OFDA
will look for opportunities through its partners to assist
in raising the level of assistance in partnership with the
government to augment services already being provided.?

9. (SBU) He added: ?Residents in the Batticaloa area and
representatives of international relief agencies expressed
concern about the continued presence of paramilitary groups
in and around Batticaloa and the disruptive effect on
relief activities of extortion, harassment and intimidation
by these groups. The U.S. delegation underlined the
importance of the Government of Sri Lanka stopping such
illegal activities and asserting Government control over
law and order in the East.?

-----------------------------
Meeting With NGOs in Colombo
-----------------------------

10. (SBU) Ky Luu held a meeting with over twenty NGOs in
Colombo on June 6. He briefed the partners on his visit to
the field and said that additional OFDA resources could be
provided to Sri Lanka but they would be conditional and
based on acceptance by the GSL of certain basic principles
required for effective utilization and impact of OFDA
funds.

--------------------
OFDA Letter to GSL
--------------------

11. (SBU) On Luu?s instruction, a letter was drafted asking
for GSL assurance that U.S.-funded NGOs would have access
to and be allowed to operate in the areas of return and
further that that access would be allowed in a timely
fashion not to exceed seven days from the time IDPs were
returned to their villages.

--------------------------------------------- ---
Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights
--------------------------------------------- ---

12. (SBU) The Ambassador, accompanied by the OFDA RA,
delivered the letter in a meeting with Mahinda
Samarasinghe, Minister of Disaster Management and Human
Rights. Minister Samarasinghe said it would be appropriate
to raise the issue in the a meeting of the Consultative
Committee on Humanitarian Assistance (CCHA) which he and
the Ambassador were attending the same day. Minister
Samarasinghe also invited the OFDA RA to join and observe
the meeting.

-------------

COLOMBO 00000927 004 OF 005


CCHA Meeting
-------------

13. (SBU) At the CCHA meeting the Ambassador raised, among
other items, the issues contained in the OFDA letter (Ref
B). Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, along with all
the other GSL representatives at the meeting, agreed that
U.S.-funded and other approved NGOs would be allowed to
work in the areas of return and, further, that they would
be allowed access at the same time that communities were
being returned. Embassy will take this matter up with the
GSL.)

14. (SBU) In the same meeting, the GSL agreed to field rapid
assessment teams to identify any emergency humanitarian
needs, such as health and nutrition, of IDPs and returnees.
Further, the GSL agreed to develop a comprehensive plan for
resettlement and agreed that technical consultants for this
effort would be provided by UNDP. (Comment: The
Ambassador and others at the meeting were able to clearly
explain how these undertakings were essential for the
Government to meet its own stated objectives for the
return. The commitments made by the Government on these
key issues, if they translate into action on the ground,
will make a critical contribution to easing the hardships
suffered by displaced communities. End comment)

---------------------------
Follow-Up Meeting with NGOs
---------------------------

15. (SBU) With these assurances in hand, the USAID Mission
Director and the OFDA RA held a meeting with NGOs at the
USAID Mission to brief them on the commitments made by the
GSL. They also presented OFDA?s programming approach for
resettlement assistance, which will focus on coordinated
end-to-end assistance (within OFDA?s mandate) to targeted
communities rather than specific sectoral assistance across
communities.

16. (SBU) While all of the NGOs present agreed that a
community-based approach was the most effective way to
ensure a durable return solution, there was a concern that,
while feasible, this approach would face challenges since
coordination at the field level is done on a sectoral
basis. The RA said he would follow up with the GSL on this
issue.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Meeting with Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster
Management and Human Rights, Peter Dias Amarasinghe
--------------------------------------------- ------

17. (SBU) The RA met with Secretary of the Ministry of
Disaster Management and Human Rights, Mr. Peter Dias
Amarasinghe, to discuss coordination issues for OFDA-funded
programs. Secretary Amarasinghe appreciated OFDA?s
interest in the return process and said that his Ministry
would help ensure that OFDA-funded programs were integrated
and coordinated at the Colombo level as well as at the
field level. He promised to invite a representative of the
USAID office to all meetings where coordination is taking
place.


COLOMBO 00000927 005 OF 005


-------------------------------
Conclusions and Recommendations
-------------------------------

18. (SBU) The OFDA team found that most IDPs wanted to
return to their villages but wanted NGOs to be with them
for purposes of security as much as for provision of
services. Most still felt that they had little choice but
to return when told to do so by the GSL.

19. (SBU) The return process witnessed by the team appeared
to be orderly and people were pleased with the food and
other items being given by the Government. They were,
however, concerned about the Government?s promise to
provide additional food when the two-week supply being
given them ran out. They were also worried that GSL would
not provide enough assistance until they could restore
their own livelihoods, which for agriculturalists would be
at least 6 months.

20. (SBU) Overall, the team found that there was enough
improvement in the GSL return process for OFDA to provide
additional assistance if the Government honored its
agreement to the OFDA conditions concerning NGO access to
IDPs and returnees. Additional OFDA assistance will be
provided to Sri Lanka through OFDA?s NGO, IO, and UN
partners.

21. (SBU) OFDA would like to thank both the U.S. Mission for
the unstinting support that OFDA continues to enjoy in Sri
Lanka. Their technical, logistical, and personal support
has made a critical contribution to OFDA?s work in-country.
OFDA would also like to applaud the leadership of
Ambassador Blake in advocating for humanitarian issues with
the Government of Sri Lanka as well as the work of Embassy
and USAID Mission personnel in support of that leadership.

Blake

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