Cablegate: Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Sfrc) Fact Finding

DE RUEHLM #1054/01 3270240
P 230240Z NOV 09





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On November 2-8, Senate Foreign Relations staff
members Nilmini Rubin and Fatema Sumar visited Sri Lanka and held
meetings with senior government officials, international
organizations, political leaders, civil-society activists, and
journalists to discuss post war reconciliation, resettlement of
internally displaced persons (IDPs), the humanitarian situation, and
media freedom. They also visited the South, East and IDP camp at
Manik Farm. The StaffDel observed that the post-war situation in
Sri Lanka was complex, particularly in light of possible elections;
Sri Lankans no longer sensed a strong partnership with the U.S.; the
U.S. "tool box" in dealing with the government of Sri Lanka (GSL)
was self-limited; a sense of palpable fear still hung over the media
and civil society; and while the GSL was making progress and doing
some good things, SL had a long way to go on reconciliation and
resettlement. Recognizing SL's geo-strategic importance to the U.S.
and the current and long-term bilateral relationship, many SL
interlocutors gave their recommendations on strengthening the
relationship and noted a need for more U.S. assistance for
resettlement and demining. END SUMMARY.


2. (SBU) The president's brother, MP, and de-facto czar of the IDP
and demining issues Basil Rajapaksa hoped to improve the bilateral
relationship and build trust with the U.S. He was critical of
recent U.S. remarks and recommended that the U.S. should choose its
words carefully. For example, he noted that "the U.S. monitoring
the progress" was perceived as "U.S. encroachment on SL's
sovereignty." While Sri Lanka was a small but proud country, SL did
not warrant a "minority mindset". He suggested that the U.S. should
approach SL as "friends" and "give suggestions rather than make
critical remarks," and such criticisms were a recent phenomenon. In
response to the "incident's report," Rajapaksa candidly remarked,
"I'm not saying we're clean; we could not abide by international law
- this would have gone on for centuries, an additional 60 years."
He highlighted the GSL's excellent relationship with India, and
argued that even India did not request monitoring of SL's progress.
Basil spoke at length on the resettlement progress and noted that
January 31 ends the 180-day plan, and that the GSL had promised to
have 80% of the IDPs released in 180 days, but that "Blake had said
our plan was too ambitious." He asserted that 80% of the IDPs would
be released by the end of January. He did not want to release
details of the government's plan because any delays or changes would
leave the GSL open to international criticism. Basil believed SL
was well on its way "to win the hearts and minds of the people" and
to resettle the IDPs. On freedom of movement, the GSL was still
concerned about LTTE sympathizers in the camps and took a paternal
view of the safety of IDPs returning to cleared lands. On media
freedom, Basil argued that the media had not been singled out, and
that high ranking police and army officials and members of the
business community had also been imprisoned on the terrorism
charges. On media access to the camps, Rajapaksa emphasized that
media restrictions in the camps were for the benefit of the IDPs and
commented that "IDPs don't like media, cameras, because they don't
want to be portrayed in those conditions." He pointed out that free
access would be only granted to those "genuinely interested" and
only those "that could be truly trusted."


3. (SBU) Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa expressed frustration
that the U.S. and international community had not recognized the
government's progressive transition to democracy, ethnic
reconciliation, disarmament and demobilization of paramilitary
groups, rehabilitation of child soldiers, and economic development.
He repeatedly used the Eastern Province as an example of the
government's demonstrated performance record and as a model for

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plans in the North. He regretted that SL was "poor at propaganda"
and had done a poor job communicating its actions and intent to the
international community, especially the U.S. and the West. While
quick to criticize, the U.S. had been slow to acknowledge SL's
achievements. Rajapaksa believed strongly in the value of repairing
SL's relations with the U.S. and recommended that the U.S. should
focus its attention on the future and not the past, judging the GSL
on its record of performance in the Eastern Province, and not on the
agendas of its critics. Rajapaksa reiterated SL's real victory over
the LTTE and contended that lasting peace would only be achieved by
development in the North. Rajapaksa noted that in defeating the
LTTE terrorists the war had "not been clean," but was still a
success. The Defense Secretary ruled out expansion of the military -
dismissing it as "only the army talking" - and said he hoped to
increase SL military's involvement in future UN peacekeeping
operations. According to Rajapaksa, the increases in the defense
budget were meant to meet payment schedules for acquisitions during
the war from China, Pakistan and Israel. The Defense Secretary took
the opportunity to apologize to the staffers for involving them in a
security incident at their hotel room the night before. The
incident occurred when they received a surprise visit to one of
their rooms by Sri Lankan plain clothes police. The police, acting
on orders to investigate an anonymous tip that room 1603 (staffer's
room) was harboring a terrorist, reacted by going directly to the
room (not alerting the hotel) to investigate. The Defense Secretary
explained that he had personally received this tip; had he known
that the staffers were the occupants of the room 1603, he would have
prevented the incident. While the Defense Secretary apologized for
the incident, it demonstrated heightened security concerns and lack
of an adequate information-screening process by the police and the
Defense Secretary.


4. (SBU) Minister of Justice Malinda Moragoda told StaffDel the GSL
was very interested in greater engagement with the U.S. but said the
political situation was "complex." According to Moragoda, there was
much resentment towards the old families and elites in Sri Lanka
amongst the Sinhalese middle and lower classes for past economic
focus on Colombo and appeasement of the LTTE, and some of this
resentment spilled over into GSL relations with the U.S. and other
western countries. Nevertheless, with the end of the war, Sri Lanka
was at a "golden moment" for building national reconciliation.
StaffDel suggested that an independent investigation of war crimes
allegations was a necessary step in national healing and
reconciliation. Moragoda said Sri Lanka "must find its own way" on
dealing with the war crimes issue and noted "frankly" that while the
panel of eminent persons recently appointed by the president was a
reaction to the publication of the Congressional report on incidents
during the war, Sri Lanka had a regrettably long history of periodic
violence and so the publication of the State Department's report to
Congress on incidents during the war had little relevance to most
Sri Lankans.


5. (SBU) The StaffDel met Minister of Science and Technology and
All-Party Representative Committee (APRC) Chairman Tissa Vitarana,
who emphasized the need for sustaining peace, working towards a
political solution and empowering the people. The key goal of APRC
was permit the devolution of powers to the provinces under the 13th
Amendment. He informed the StaffDel that the APRC had submitted its
assessment report to President Rajapaksa and was awaiting the
President's response and comments. Vitarana criticized the 13th
Amendment as an Indian creation, but found some useful elements in
the 17th Amendment. His goal was to simplify and streamline the
government, giving more power to traditional village councils. This
would give proper representation to small ethnic enclaves scattered

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throughout the country. He commented on his recent meeting with
diaspora representatives in Europe as part of his work with ethnic
community. On human rights and media freedom problems, Vitarana
instantly became defensive, and regretted that the international
community did not understand the situation on the ground. He
praised the President as being "admirable" on improved relations
with countries such as Iran, Libya and China when the West wouldn't
help them finish the war against the LTTE, since the West was so
weak now economically speaking. He thanked the U.S. for pushing Sri
Lanka closer to China which represented the economic future.


6. (SBU) Major General Kamal Gunaratne, Commander of Security Forces
North and the Competent Authority (CA) for IDPs, briefed the
StaffDel on IDP centers in Vavuniya, Mannar, and Weli Oya in the
Northern Province and on the progress of resettlement and returns.
When asked about U.S. assistance to IDPs and resettlement, Gunaratne
was unaware of any U.S. assistance. He remarked on his excellent
relationship with the UN and other international organizations
working under the UN umbrella. Gunaratne reported as of 04 November
154,483 individuals remained in 21 relief villages and IDP centers
in Wanni, mostly in Vavuniya. He hoped to resettle an average of
4,000 per day. During their visit to Zone 2 and 3 at Manik Farm,
the StaffDel interacted with the IDPs, visited their living spaces,
saw hygiene facilities and food distribution by the World Food
Program (WFP) funded by USAID. The military demonstrated their
difficult and challenging demining efforts in Mannar territory in
previously held by the LTTE. To demonstrate their efforts on post
war reconstruction and resettlement of the East, the GSL took
StaffDel to visit two schools in Vakarai, a 99% Tamil community, one
built by the GSL and one by the EU. A SL civil affairs officer
briefed on dozens of civil-military projects completed during the
last two years and the projects such as schools, clean water, and


7. (SBU) Media discussion centered on the question: "Is there a
free press in Sri Lanka?" Although most of the journalists were
able to function as independent media, the consensus was that the
press was not truly free. Media reps noted that the GSL government
did not exercise its control of the press through direct censorship
or a dominant state-run propaganda machine; instead, it intimidated
journalists by threatening, beating, and sometimes killing them.
Since these actions depended on the topic and the whim of powerful
figures, reporters and editors could not predict future actions
against them. To avoid violence, many journalists censored
themselves and were unwilling to be quoted. As an example, the group
pointed to a recent Ministry of Defense press release that
discouraged reporting of the political ambitions of active duty
military, forcing nearly all media outlets to drop coverage of
military members, including CHOD General Fonseka, who is a likely
presidential candidate. Some of the media representatives insisted
the situation was "not that bad" and most accepted that certain
restrictions on the press were necessary for the government to win
the war against the LTTE. In addition, nearly all of them
criticized some aspect of U.S. policy. It would be incorrect to
assume that a free local press would spontaneously agree with
Western criticism of GSL actions.


8. (SBU) United National Party (UNP) and opposition leader Ranil
Wikremesinghe believed that the U.S. was on the right track in
publishing the "Incidents Report" and should "keep the pressure on
the GSL." Wikremesinghe felt the Sri Lankans didn't want to lose

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their relationship with the U.S. and the government's criticism of
U.S. recent remarks were "complete nonsense." He was not
particularly concerned with China's developing relationship with Sri
Lanka. He countered that if China continued to expand its position
in Sri Lanka, India would intervene and keep a balance on that
front. On the issue of media freedom, Wikremesinghe was very
critical of the government's suppression of the free press. He was
optimistic about defeating President Rajapaksa in the upcoming
elections, and was confident about becoming the next Prime Minister
and doing the "needed surgery" to improve the conditions in SL.


9. (SBU) Minister of Parliament M.T. Hasen Ali and A. M. Faaiz,
Director of International Affairs from the SLMC, told the StaffDel
that the GSL needed to move forward in power sharing and
democratization. Faaiz noted that the power needed to be shared
amongst the Tamils, Sinhalese and the Muslims since they shared
similar minority concerns. While Faaiz commented that the Muslims
needed to be included in the peace process, he offered no
recommendations on avenues that the GSL should undertake to achieve
political reconciliation goals. On the IDP issue, SLMC discussed
the lack of access by minority leaders to the IDP camps. Echoing the
sentiment of no independent verification of information coming out
of the IDP camps, Faaiz wanted the GSL to allow the free flow of
information from the camps.

CPA and NPC: Constitutional Reform

10. (SBU) At a roundtable discussion, Center for Policy Alternatives
(CPA) Director P. Saravanamuttu, National Peace Council (NPC)
Chairman Jehan Perera, University of Colombo Professor Dr.
Keethaponcalan, and former SL Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Javed Yusuf
discussed Tamil community concerns, freedom of movement of IDPs, and
constitutional reform with the StaffDel. Saravanamuttu stressed
that the detention of the IDPs was "illegal under Sri Lankan law."
The group emphasized the need for electoral reform and international
election observers and mentioned a possible role for the Carter
Center. They explained the powers of devolution and
decentralization, the weakness of the 13th Amendment and the GSL's
ability to undermine the authority of the provincial council system.
Perera and Saravanamuttu believed that raising the issue of full
implementation of the 13th Amendment was something of a "red
herring" used by the GSL to avoid discussing reconciliation and a
long-term equitable political solution. National issues such as
allocation of land, rule of law, and the non-implementation of the
official languages policy continued to drive the conflict. The
discussion underscored the president's failure to implement the 17th
Amendment and the politicization of the commissions and therefore
the politicization of promotions and transfers within the police and
the judiciary.


11. (SBU) CARE, Save the Children, and Asia Foundation noted their
tense relationships with GSL. The NGOs remarked on the GSL
suspicions and accusations of NGOs being corrupt. On the IDP
situation, the NGOs believed the GSL's lack of transparency and
coordination in handling every aspect of the inhabitants' treatment,
release, and resettlement were serious concerns. The NGOs described
the camps' living conditions as poor to deplorable and noted the
GSL's lack of a coherent plan for transporting and resettling the
IDPs. The NGOs believed international pressure was warranted and
should continue. They remarked that while SL's complicated
situation was not as "black and white" as portrayed overseas, the
GSL needed to work on political reconciliation and address minority

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12. (SBU) In a separate meeting with International Committee of Red
Cross (ICRC), representative Anthony Dalziel described ICRC's
relationship with GSL as delicate and tense. While the ICRC
continued to have access to detention centers, their current mandate
was under review, which prevented them from visiting the IDP camps.
ICRC continued its work in helping the country to return to
normalcy. Dalziel noted that the GSL had made some progress with
resettlement, but people were still unable to locate relatives and
the screening of host families made people reluctant to help.
Dalziel believed that people were glad that the war was over, but
there was still a general sense of disappointment with the continued
security checks. He also lamented that the voice of Tamils was
fading away. In his opinion, the media continued to be suppressed
and threatened.


13. (SBU) Tamil, Muslim, and Sinhalese representatives of women's
activist groups briefed the StaffDel on women's issues. Most of the
discussion centered on lack of opportunities for women in politics,
lack of female participation in policy-making, lack of compensation
to women affected by the conflict, and grievances and hardships
endured by women during the conflict. In their criticisms of GSL
handling of the post-war situation, the group believed that U.S. and
international pressure and criticisms were on point and welcomed.
They recommended that any donor funding of key development projects
should consult with local women's organizations as prerequisite to
future aid to SL.


14. (SBU) At a USAID-Mission-Director-hosted event, representatives
from British, Canadian and Australian High Commissions; Norwegian,
Swiss and Dutch Embassies; and European Commission on Humanitarian
Aid (ECHO) briefed the StaffDel on humanitarian assistance provided
through the UN and NGOs to the displaced populations. Donor country
representatives expressed their concerns on lack of freedom of
movement granted to the IDPs, that safe and voluntary return of IDPs
to places of origin be facilitated and that the future donors
constructively engage with GSL to achieve these goals.

15. (SBU) Indian Political Chief B. Shyam focused his discussion
with the StaffDel on IDPs. Shyam highlighted India's continued
strategic interest in Sri Lanka and India's concerns on resettlement
of IDPs and reconstruction. Political chief noted India and SL had
a strong bilateral relationship, and India's aid was primarily
through ICRC and the UN and funding in the form of loans. Shyam was
dismissive of India's concerns of China's footprint on SL and felt
that the "string of pearls" analogy was a far reach by many


16. (SBU) In the StaffDel meeting with IMF Resident Representative
Koshy Mathai, he noted that SL was performing fiscally well, but
should loosen its monetary policy. In Mathai's opinion, there were
no "conflict filters" built in the IMF, but argued that the IMF
strictly focused on macroeconomic conditions. While Mathai
sympathized with the international community on the need to leverage
the loan, he argued the Fund was not the correct international forum
to address humanitarian conditions and political goals. The first
tranche (roughly USD 320 million) of the loan was in the reserves at
Central Bank as prescribed and the second tranche was also approved.

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17. (SBU) ADB Country Director Richard Vokes told the StaffDel that
while they continued their work throughout the country, their focus
had shifted to the North and East. Vokes explained the lack of
formal "conflict filter" test, but that ADB still examined their
proposed projects that impacted different communities and conflict
issues. On corruption issues, Vokes explained that there were tools
built in to address fraud and corruption and that ADB worked with
tools that addressed "strengthening the anti-corruption mechanisms
within the country."


18. (SBU) The WB Country Director Naoka Ishii and Senior Economist
Claus Astrup briefed the StaffDel on WB's "conflict filters" laid
out in the 2009-2012 Country Assistance Strategy to ensure against
WB activities inflaming the conflict. Ishii noted that it had been
a useful engagement tool and two of their projects had slowed as a
result of the filter. Ishii and Astrup recommended that the West
and the International community try to bring SL back to normalcy and
build the level of trust between SL and the West. While the private
sector was tilted to the West, WB's officials noted that SL's
political orientation was moving away from the West.


19. (SBU) The StaffDel noted in their out brief with the Ambassador
that the current SL environment was post-war and not post-conflict,
with reconciliation still a challenging issue. They found ground
reality in Sri Lanka "more nuanced" and "more complicated" than
expected. They recommended that the U.S. think strategically and
long-term and take a holistic approach in determining U.S. specific
levers on key issues, and commented that by focusing only on human
rights, "we shoot ourselves in the foot." They were notably
surprised that in comparison to India, China played a significant
role in SL. During their discussions, several Sri Lankan
interlocutors commented on U.S. "under appreciation" of Sri Lankan
success in defeating the LTTE and SL's progress that pushed SL
towards the Chinese. SFRC staffers remarked that the SL story
being sold in Washington was one-dimensional that focused too much
on the humanitarian situation. IDP camps were "being sold as
concentration camps," however, the realities in the camps were much
more complicated. The StaffDel departed SL with a better
understanding of SL's challenging post-war environment, and an
appreciation of U.S., International community and NGOs efforts in
post-war Sri Lanka. End Comment.

20. (U) Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) staffers have
cleared this cable.


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