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Cablegate: Sri Lanka: Government Takes Credit for Increased Flow Of

VZCZCXRO2220
OO RUEHBI RUEHLMC
DE RUEHLM #1233/01 2530223
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 100223Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6775
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 3274
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 5507
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 0396
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 7384
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 4012
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 1342
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO 4085
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA 1200
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 3171
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 7980
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 5622
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 001233

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE PASS TO USAID
AID/W FOR ANE/SAA
AID/W FOR DCHA/OFDA FOR RTHAYER AND BDEEMER
KATHMANDU FOR OFDA REGIONAL ADVISOR WILLIAM BERGER
AID W/ANE/SA FOR KFREEMAN
BANGKOK FOR OFDA DIRECTOR TOM DOLAN
AID/W FOOD FOR PEACE FOR JDWORKIN
UN WORLD FOOD PROGRAM

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID PGOV PHUM PREF CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: GOVERNMENT TAKES CREDIT FOR INCREASED FLOW OF
FOOD TO JAFFNA; ACKNOWLEDGES CHALLENGES REMAIN

REF: COLOMBO 0310

1. Summary: Two weeks after returning from a visit to the northern
Jaffna Peninsula, the Commissioner General of Essential Services
(CGES) on August 30 briefed the diplomatic community and United
Nations agency heads in Colombo on steps the Government of Sri Lanka
has taken to maintain a steady flow of supplies to Jaffna. Stating
at the outset that his remarks were not intended as a public
relations exercise, Commissioner S.B. Divaratne focused on
challenges the government had overcome as well as obstacles that
remain in meeting humanitarian needs for the 633,163 residents of
Jaffna District, 99,000 of whom are displaced. Although the
Commissioner described significant progress in a year's time, the
benchmark for comparison was low due to the cumulative effect of
nearly 25 years of protracted conflict. Much remains to be done to
restore normalcy to the lives of people on the peninsula, and the
government urged the international community to continue its support
to address those needs. End Summary.


----------
BACKGROUND
----------

2. Armed conflict between Sri Lankan government security forces and
the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) near the gateway to
Jaffna in mid-August 2006 resulted in the closure of the A9 highway
between the government-controlled Jaffna Peninsula and the
LTTE-controlled Wanni region to the south. With the peninsula
accessible only by sea and air, and continued sporadic hostilities
along the northern front lines, providing adequate stocks of food,
medicine, agricultural inputs, fuel, and construction materials to
Jaffna residents became significantly more challenging for the
government, private sector, and international relief agencies alike.
Limited supplies and heavy transport and handling costs drove
prices upward, often beyond the means of the 75 percent of Jaffna
residents who live below the poverty line, according to government
statistics.

-----------------------------
LIVELIHOODS AND FOOD SECURITY
-----------------------------

3. There remains an inadequate supply of high protein food, the
Commissioner said. Contributing to this are continued
security-related restrictions on access to the sea for fishermen.
Acknowledging the need to balance national security with
humanitarian needs, the Commissioner recommended a subsidy for
families whose livelihoods depend on fishing. Prices of basic
foodstuffs and other essential items remain high relative to
Colombo, particularly in light of limited purchasing power, but were
trending downward with a few notable exceptions, such as lentils.
Contributing to lower prices is the "radical improvement" in supply
due to the strengthened network of government cooperative societies,
which provide essential food and non-food items at subsidized
prices, and the resurgence of the private sector. An estimated 70
percent of the more than 5,000 private outlets functioning a year
ago are back in business, supported by the Federation of Chambers of
Commerce in Sri Lanka (FCCISL) and its local affiliate, the Jaffna
Chamber of Commerce (JCC), which have been asked by the government
to work with private traders to prevent price gouging on items not
for sale in cooperatives.

-------------------------
SUPPLY OF ESSENTIAL GOODS
-------------------------


COLOMBO 00001233 002 OF 002


4. The Commissioner acknowledged the Government's inability to
provide adequate transport for timely supply of World Food Program
(WFP) rations to Jaffna in early 2007. Going forward, he assured
the UN agency access to at least one cargo ship, and possibly two,
for a minimum supply of 2,300 metric tons of essential food items
per month. The existing fleet of nine cargo ships, up from three a
year ago, supplies more than 80 percent of the estimated average
monthly requirement of 33,000 metric tons of food and other
essential consumer items. The CGES is acquiring two more ships,
which will close the gap completely. Further improvements to port
facilities, increased warehousing capacity in Jaffna, and continued
dialogue with the private sector remain priorities.

------------------
TRANSPORT AND MAIL
------------------

5. A passenger ferry runs "continuously" between Jaffna and
Trincomalee, carrying 400 passengers per trip, while three private
airlines operate five planes out of Palaly Air Force base, carrying
a total of 200 passengers daily, the Commissioner said.
Thirty-three new buses had been sent to the Jaffna, along with spare
parts to get decommissioned vehicles back on the road. A backlog of
parcels to be sent by post from Colombo to Jaffna had been cleared,
and the postal service was functioning smoothly, with daily mail
service from the South provided by passenger vessels.

------------------------
OTHER ESSENTIAL SERVICES
------------------------

6. Jaffna town, as well as the High Security Zone around
Kankesanthurai (KKS) Naval Base, now have an uninterrupted supply of
electricity round the clock, whereas four other urban areas have a
power cut every other day for up to 45 minutes. The Commissioner
said a steady fuel supply had been established, and that there were
no shortages of petrol, diesel or kerosene. All hospitals are
functioning, according to the Commissioner's findings, with regular
supplies to Jaffna Teaching Hospital and emergency supplies by air.
The GCE Advanced Level examination, cancelled the previous year, was
conducted without problems in 2007. "Schools that should function
are functioning," according to the Commissioner, adding that student
attendance was "satisfactory."

-------
Comment
-------

7. The stated purpose of the presentation, made at the President's
request after a similar briefing to the Cabinet on August 22, was to
share information and exchange views on issues related to food
security and supply of essential items. In that regard, the
Commissioner presented a fact-based picture of progress tempered by
challenges remaining to be met. The presence of Minister of
Disaster Management and Human Rights, Mahinda Samarasinghe, as well
as Basil Rajapaksa, Special Advisor to the President, underscored
the government's interest in partnership with the international
community. The briefing did not - but was not designed to - address
human rights and security issues, which are also critically
important factors in the lives of citizens in Jaffna.
BLAKE

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