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Cablegate: Sri Lanka: Engaging International Partners

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PP RUEHIK
DE RUEHC #6163/01 0540006
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 230001Z FEB 10
FM SECSTATE WASHDC
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 STATE 016163

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CE KAWC KDEM PGOV PHUM PREF PREL
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: ENGAGING INTERNATIONAL PARTNERS

STATE 00016163 001.2 OF 004


1. (U) This is an action request; see paragraph 11.

2. (SBU) Summary: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa
has followed his January 26 re-election with the extra-legal
arrest of the opposition candidate and intimidation of
independent media. While Rajapaksa's administration has
faced criticism within the country, we seek to coordinate our
message with international partners in Sri Lanka to persuade
Rajapaksa to abide by the constitution, begin reconciliation,
allow freedom of movement for all internally displaced
persons (IDPs), and initiate an accountability process. End
Summary.

Smooth Election, Bumpy Post-Election
------------------------------------

3. (SBU) The political situation in Sri Lanka remains fluid
since the January 26 presidential election, in which
incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated former Army
Commander and Chief of Defense Staff General Sarath Fonseka
by a wide margin. The results were expected to be closer,
but most domestic and international observers have
acknowledged Rajapaksa's victory, though the opposition has
charged fraud. Since his victory, however, Rajapaksa has
moved aggressively to consolidate his political control,
arresting General Fonseka on allegations of engaging in
political activity while serving as an Army officer, and
conspiring against the president. The Rajapaksa government,
including the president's brother, Defense Secretary
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, has forced a number of senior Army
officers into retirement, and arrested dozens of other active
duty retired army officers, some campaign workers and
clerical staff, and members of the Fonseka family. Hundreds
of police officers suspected of being sympathetic to Fonseka
have also been reassigned.

Fonseka Under Arrest
--------------------

4. (SBU) General Fonseka remains under arrest for alleged
violations of the Sri Lankan Army Act; no formal charges,
however, have yet been filed against him. We are continuing
to urge, publicly and privately, that any action against
Fonseka be taken in accordance with Sri Lankan law and in the
spirit of national reconciliation. We have called on the GSL
to make public the legal basis for the action against Fonseka
and stressed the need to work to overcome the fissures that
exist within Sri Lankan society. Our message echoes
statements by our Indian and European partners, and the UN
Secretary General, who intends to dispatch Undersecretary
General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe to Colombo soon.

Independent Press Intimidated
-----------------------------


STATE 00016163 002.2 OF 004


5. (SBU) We also have expressed our concern about reports of
post-election intimidation of independent media. For
example, representatives of Lanka e-news, the media outlet
that employed Prageeth Eknaligoda, a journalist who
disappeared on January 24, reported to Embassy Colombo that
paramilitaries surrounded their office after the election.
Other journalists affiliated with pro-opposition party media
are known to be in hiding or have been detained and
questioned regarding pro-Fonseka articles that appeared prior
to the election. Despite the lack of any terrorist incidents
or credible security threats since the end of the war last
May, the GSL also continues to renew monthly its Emergency
Regulations, which allow detentions, restrictions on the
press and assembly, and other repressive measures, all of
which at this point appear to have more to do with
restricting political dissent than enhancing national
security.

Domestic Critics Include Buddhist Monks
-----------------------------------

6. (SBU) The GSL has begun to face blowback for its
heavy-handedness. The Colombo Chief Magistrate strongly
reprimanded police for the severe tactics, including tear
gas, used against opposition protesters on February 10 that
resulted in a number of injuries, and ordered released on
February 17 fourteen persons, including active-duty armed
forces personnel, who had been arrested at Fonseka's campaign
office January 29. The influential head of the oldest and
largest Buddhist sect in Sri Lanka shocked the country by
saying on February 9 that it was a "grave crime" to imprison
a war hero. The prelate said Fonseka's service to the nation
in defeating terrorism entitled him to be pardoned and
lamented that people are living in fear or even fleeing into
the jungle because they voted for Fonseka. A Sanga Sabha, or
monks' council, for all Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka was to be
held on February 18, but was postponed indefinitely,
reportedly as a result of threats against the monks by
pro-government individuals.

Some Progress, but Missed Opportunity
-------------------------------------

7. (SBU) The Sri Lankan presidential election was an
important opportunity for progress toward national
reconciliation. Although Fonseka was known as a Sinhalese
nationalist, and alleged by some to have been, like President
Rajapaksa, responsible for potential violations of
international humanitarian law and other actions against
Tamil civilians during the final stages of the conflict, the
decision by Tamil political representatives to support
Fonseka brought many Sri Lankan Tamils into the political
process for the first time in decades. Likewise, the GSL
undertook a number of important initiatives to gain Tamil
votes, most importantly by allowing increased freedom of
movement for and expediting greatly the return home of people
internally displaced by the end of the conflict with the
Tamil Tigers (LTTE). Some important steps had also been
taken on human rights, including the release on bail of the

STATE 00016163 003.2 OF 004


prominent Tamil journalist, J.S. Tissainayagam, and a
noticeable decrease in the level of disappearances. This
progress, which had led us to begin to explore opportunities
for how the United States could start to expand its
engagement with the GSL, has been reversed by the
government's actions against Fonseka, his supporters, and the
independent media -- further polarizing the country.

Accountability, Reconciliation and War Crimes
---------------------------------------------

8. (SBU) The State Department will report to Congress in
June on GSL progress in addressing alleged incidents of
potential violations of international humanitarian law and
other harms catalogued in a Department report last October.
In November 2009, President Rajapaksa appointed a group of
eminent persons to look into the allegations and provide
findings to him by December 31; the date was subsequently
postponed to April. We are unaware of how much progress the
group has made. With parliamentary elections planned for
April, we are concerned the government may again extend the
deadline. Calls for an international investigation will
likely increase the longer the GSL defers action. Speaking
to the BBC following the presidential election, Defense
Secretary Rajapaksa ruled out categorically any international
investigation, though he did not rule out a domestic
accountability process, such as, for example, a truth and
reconciliation commission. Accountability is an important
element of national reconciliation. We wish to continue to
encourage and work with the GSL to identify a mechanism and
initiate a credible and transparent accountability process.

Accusations Against the U.S.
----------------------------

9. (SBU) GSL officials have sought to besmirch Fonseka by
alleging that the United States and Norway bankrolled and
supported his candidacy, and that the U.S. conspired with
Fonseka to overthrow the Sri Lankan government. Such
allegations have been categorically rejected by the U.S.
Embassy and by the Department. At the same time, China,
Russia, and Iran are continuing to increase their influence
in Sri Lanka. Chinese foreign direct investment, for
example, is estimated at $6 billion, and Iran supplies nearly
all of Sri Lanka's oil imports.

Sri Lanka Will Survive
----------------------

10. (SBU) Fortunately, Sri Lanka has a strong democratic
tradition, and its legal and political institutions retain
some of their former vibrancy. More importantly, it has an
educated and influential middle class that wishes to retain
Sri Lanka's Western orientation. Strengthening democratic
impulses within Sri Lanka will be an essential component of
any international effort to help bolster democracy and the
rule of law in Sri Lanka.

Action Request: Engage International Partners

STATE 00016163 004.2 OF 004


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

11. (SBU) Action Request: As we discuss internally how best
to engage the GSL in this new, post-election environment, we
ask action addressees to 1) convey to host governments our
concern, citing examples in the above paragraphs, about the
deteriorating political situation in Sri Lanka and 2) to
solicit from host governments their views on our assessment,
and how the international community can work together to help
prevent further deterioration and resume progress on our
shared goals, including, but not limited to:

- Freedom of movement for and the voluntary return of the
100,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who remain in
camps;
- Political reconciliation, including ending media
intimidation and other human rights abuses, and
implementation of political and constitutional reforms that
would devolve political power to local governments and
increase the political participation of minority communities;
and
- Initiating a credible and transparent accountability
process, in consultation with Sri Lankan Tamils and other
minority communities.

12. (U) Please slug responses to SCA/INSB Anthony Renzulli
and S/WCI Shaun Coughlin. Please direct any questions to
Anthony Renzulli, Sri Lanka/Maldives Desk Officer,
202-647-1078.
CLINTON

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