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Cablegate: Sri Lanka's Relations with Un Deteriorating

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DE RUEHLM #1652/01 3461053
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 121053Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7330
INFO RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN PRIORITY 0572
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA PRIORITY 0581
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD PRIORITY 7568
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 5738
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RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 1635
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RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI PRIORITY 5744
RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO PRIORITY 0475
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 2490
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 001652

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

(C O R R E C T E D C O P Y) CHANGING PARA 10 MARKING TO SBU

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INS
MCC FOR D NASSIRY AND E BURKE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL AORC PHUM MOPS CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA'S RELATIONS WITH UN DETERIORATING


COLOMBO 00001652 001.2 OF 003


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The last month has seen a deterioration in
the UN's already shaky relations with Sri Lanka. On November
12, JVP parliamentary floor leader Wimal Weerawansa made a
speech to parliament in which he accused UNICEF of supporting
the LTTE through contributions of money and vehicles. On
November 26, Weerawansa made a second statement to parliament
accusing UNICEF and an AmCit UNICEF employee of attempting to
provide food rations and armored vehicles to the LTTE. On
November 23, the Foreign Ministry asked UNICEF to take action
against its staff members who allegedly participated in a
demonstration in Colombo against the killing of two Red Cross
workers. The UN has warned that the recent controversy over
UNICEF actions in Sri Lanka could harm the working
relationship between the UN and Sri Lanka. In a separate
incident, the GSL has voiced strong objection to a statement
by UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura condemning the
Sri Lankan military's attack on the Voice of Tigers (VOT)
radio station. These latest actions track closely with the
GSL's record of lashing out at international organizations
and diplomats, particularly those who criticize GSL actions.
The Ambassador plans to support a UN request for the GSL to
issue a public statement indicating it has completed its
investigation into alleged UNICEF improprieties, found no
wrongdoing, and has confidence in the work of UN agencies.
End Summary.

JVP Accuses UNICEF AmCit of Aiding Tigers
-----------------------------------------

2. (U) On November 12, JVP member of parliament Wimal
Weerawansa made a speech to parliament in which he accused
UNICEF of supporting the LTTE. He claimed that UNICEF has
provided financial resources to the TRO, specifically Rs.
11,327,784 (approximately USD 105,000) between 2000 and 2006.
He also said that UNICEF gave a Land Cruiser vehicle to the
LTTE, and that AmCit UNICEF employee Jennifer Taylor
knowingly hired a "large number of members of the Tiger
organization" to fill UNICEF positions. On November 26,
Weerawansa made second statement to parliament containing
additional accusations against UNICEF and Taylor. He told
parliament that UNICEF imported 5640 packets of ready to eat
meals for the use of the LTTE. He noted that, "this kind of
food is not for the consumption of civilians. Usually, this
kind of food is needed for military units that engage in
guerrilla warfare." Weerawansa has attributed the "smuggling
of combat rations" specifically to Taylor. He also claimed
that Taylor employed a local firm to armor UNICEF vehicles to
be given to the LTTE. Weerawansa said UNICEF had several
vehicles armored, but kept only one for its own use.

3. (U) The UN issued a response saying that "the consignment
of Meals Ready-to-Eat (MREs) was purchased by UNICEF on
behalf of 12 UN and other agencies for the use of only staff
in every UN office in Sri Lanka in the event of an emergency
when food might be scarce. This 'three day ration' is in
accordance with global security measures stipulated by UN
Headquarters, and is common practice throughout the world."
According to Gordon Weiss, UNICEF spokesperson in Colombo,
UNICEF has only modified one vehicle, and it is currently
being used by UNICEF. Weiss also noted that UNICEF stopped
working with the TRO in early 2006.

4. (U) The Foreign Ministry on November 23 said that UNICEF
had agreed to publicize an audit of its transactions in Sri
Lanka to prove there were no ongoing dealings with the TRO.
Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama told parliament that
UNICEF supplies being brought into the country would no
longer be granted the usual diplomatic immunity from customs
checks. On November 30, Sri Lankan security forces entered
and placed a guard at UNICEF warehouses in Seeduwa, near the
airport. UNICEF spokesman Gordon Weiss said the agency was

COLOMBO 00001652 002.2 OF 003


notified beforehand. On December 11, UNICEF Director
Phillipe Duamelle told Ambassador that Bogollagama and
Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa have been understanding
of the problem in private and have committed to helping
resolve it. The GSL has agreed to issue a public statement
reporting that the Government has investigated the matter and
found no wrongdoing by UNICEF, he said. The GSL has not said
when they will issue this statement. Duamelle confirmed that
the UNICEF warehouses remain closed, but said UNICEF has been
allowed to remove some non-MRE items.

GSL Objects to UNICEF Participation in Protest
--------------------------------------------- -

5. (U) On November 23, the Foreign Ministry asked UNICEF to
take action against its staff members who allegedly
participated in a demonstration in Colombo against the
killing of two Red Cross workers. Acting Foreign Secretary T.
B. Maduwegedera specifically requested that UNICEF withdraw
the international officer involved in the protest and
terminate the national employee, noting that participation in
a demonstration was a violation of the UNICEF mandate. The
UN office in Colombo is conducting its own investigation into
the allegations that some of its staff members participated
in the protest. According to Weiss, the investigation and
any necessary sanctions will be carried out by the end of
December.

UN Warns of Damaged Relationship
---------------------------------

6. (U) The UN has warned that the recent controversy over
UNICEF actions in Sri Lanka could harm the working
relationship between the UN and Sri Lanka. A UN statement on
November 26 said that "In the estimation of the UN, this
false impression undermines the security of every UN staff
member, obstructs the implementation of basic development
projects for all Sri Lankans, erodes the confidence of donor
governments, and damages the generally excellent working
relationship of the UN and the government." Neil Buhne, UN
Resident Representative in Colombo, reiterated in a press
statement on November 28 that, "Groundless public accusations
can seriously compromise our ability to carry out
humanitarian and development work and are also putting the
safety and security of UN staff and NGO partners at risk."

GSL Demands Retraction of UNESCO Statement
--------------------------------------------

7. (U) The GSL has voiced strong objection to a statement by
UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura condemning the Sri
Lankan military's attack on the Voice of Tigers (VOT) radio
station. Matsuura's statement said, "regardless of the
content of the broadcasts aired by the Voice of Tigers, there
can be no excuse for military strikes on civilian media.
Such action contravenes the Geneva Convention..." Sri
Lanka's Ambassador in France and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO
Chitranganee Wagiswara delivered a letter of protest from the
GSL to the DG demanding a retraction of the statement. The
letter notes that as a mouthpiece for the LTTE, the VOT is
not a legitimate civilian radio station. It also says the
DG's reference in his statement to the "Geneva Convention" is
out of context since there is no war or confrontation between
two sovereign states in Sri Lanka. On December 5, Foreign
Minister Bogollagama told parliament that "Sri Lanka will not
permit any international organization to be a vehicle for the
LTTE by justifying its modes of operation" and said the
Ministry would "exercise all means...to ensure that such
statements are retracted or corrections made by the relevant
agencies and authorities in the international arena." On
December 6, Bogollagama made another statement in Parliament

COLOMBO 00001652 003.2 OF 003


announcing a criminal investigation against UNICEF's
importation of the rations and demanding the withdrawal of
any international staff who had participated in
demonstrations.

Comment and Next Steps
----------------------

8. (SBU) These latest controversies have had an adverse
impact not only on the activities and employees of UN
agencies in Sri Lanka, but also on all international NGOs
working in Sri Lanka. In a December 12 meeting with AID
Director and Ambassador, international NGO representatives
reported that their Tamil staff in particular feel
increasingly exposed and some NGOs have had greater
difficulty recruiting new staff as a result of these latest
incidents. Others report greater scrutiny of national and
international staff at GSL checkpoints, particularly on the
roads near LTTE-controlled areas.

9. (SBU) Ironically, it has only been a few weeks since the
government plastered Colombo with posters congratulating
itself on getting Education Minister Susil Premajantha
elected to the UNESCO board. These latest attacks on the UN
are consistent with the GSL's record of failing to first
investigate allegations before lashing out at international
organizations and diplomats, especially those who criticize
GSL actions. This has been a particular popular practice in
the over-heated atmosphere surrounding this year's budget
debates when the GSL has been eager to curry favor with the
nationalist JVP. UNICEF, in particular, offended the
Government by citing the Sri Lankan military for its
complicity in child recruitment by the LTTE-breakaway "Karuna
group." Jennifer Taylor and her husband, a USAID employee,
are in the process of moving out of the country on the
recommendation of UN security.

10. (C) The Ambassador has expressed concern to the GSL that
Taylor was publicly named before any investigation had taken
place thereby endangering her security and that of her
family, which the GSL acknowledged was wrong. The Ambassador
will also support at the December 13 Coordinating Committee
on Humanitarian Affairs meeting the UN request for the GSL to
issue a public statement indicating it has completed its
investigation into alleged UNICEF improprieties, found no
wrongdoing, and has confidence in the work of UN agencies.
Such a statement would go a long way to repairing the damage
that has been caused.
BLAKE

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