US embassy cable - 03COLOMBO1967

MEDIA PLAY: Sri Lankan President Meets PM, Norwegians meet LTTE

Identifier: 03COLOMBO1967
Wikileaks: View 03COLOMBO1967 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2003-11-14 06:05:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Tags: KPAO OPRC KMDR OIIP CE Elections Political Parties
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 COLOMBO 001967 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR INR/MR, I/RW, I/REC; PA 
SA/INS (CAMP, DEAN, WALLER); SA/PD (REINCKENS, SCENSNY, 
STRYKER); SSA/PAS 
 
E.O.12958:N/A 
TAGS: KPAO, OPRC, KMDR, OIIP, CE, Elections, Political Parties 
SUBJECT:  MEDIA PLAY: Sri Lankan President Meets PM, 
Norwegians meet LTTE 
 
1. Summary.  The 11/12 meeting between the President and 
the Prime Minister dominated the headlines in Sri Lankan 
English and vernacular media.   Government-owned television 
and newspaper headlines predictably slanted toward the 
President, but the independent press was less positive. 
The media also reported on the fate of the three ministries 
taken over by the President,  developments on the 
parliamentary front, and the impact of the political crisis 
on the economy.  Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar 
Helgessen's 11/13 meeting with LTTE leader Velupillai 
Prabhakaran garnered significant attention.  Editorial 
comment was heavy.  Government-owned English and vernacular 
newspapers vocally supported the President. One government 
daily commented, "No leadership can ignore the honest and 
sincere call made this time for a government of national 
reconciliation by President Chandrika Kumaratunga." 
Independent English editorialists criticized possible 
elections, party politics, and commented on the need to 
keep an eye on the LTTE during the crisis.  One Sinhala 
commentator supported cohabitation efforts, while a Tamil 
editor noted, "...the actions of the President are being 
considered as sinister political moves."  End Summary. 
 
----- 
Headlines 
----- 
 
2.  The 11/12 meeting between the President and the Prime 
Minister dominated the headlines in English and vernacular 
newspapers.  Government-owned television and newspaper 
headlines predictably slanted toward the President. 
Sinhala daily, DINAMINA reported (11/13), "President and PM 
agree to continue talks on a government to save the 
nation." Government-owned Rupavahini television reported 
(11/12) a similar headline on evening newscasts. 
Meanwhile, the independent press was less positive. 
Independent English DAILY MIRROR's lead headline was 
(11/13), "No breakthrough in talks," and independent Tamil 
daily, THINAKKURAL offered expanded coverage (11/13), "No 
progress in the efforts to end political crisis; PM 
stresses again and again that President should take care of 
the peace process; President and PM agree to meet next 
week." 
 
3.  The fate of the three ministries the President took 
over also made the news.  Two newspapers carried the 
comments of Sarath Aumunugama, MP and PA Spokesman. 
Independent English DAILY MIRROR quoted him (11/13), 
"Defence portfolio will remain with President," while 
independent Tamil daily, THINAKKURAL reported his comments 
more extensively (11/13), "Three ministries taken over by 
the President will not be handed over to the government for 
any reason; Pact with JVP may be announced at any moment." 
The government perspective, in the voice of UNP Minister 
S.B. Dissanayake also made the headlines.  Independent 
Tamil daily, VIRAKESARI reported his comments (11/13), "We 
will stop funds to the three ministries taken over by the 
President,"  while independent Sinhala daily LANKADEEPA 
quoted (11/13), "No alternative to election if the 
ministries are not given back." 
 
4.  The media paid attention to developments on the 
parliamentary front as well.  Independent English DAILY 
MIRROR  reported (11/13), "Speaker denies request to re- 
summon house," and government-owned ITN television reminded 
viewers of the President's position (11/12), "The speaker 
says parliament will meet on the 19th."  Independent 
Sinhala daily DIVAINA's headline cautioned (11/13), "Don't 
convene parliament unconstitutionally - opposition leaders 
tell the speaker."  Independent Maharaja Television's 
English newscasts followed up on an earlier report (11/13), 
"PA denies allegations of attempts to buy UNPers." 
Finally, independent English DAILY MIRROR reported (11/14), 
"Deal with JVP, dissolution [of parliament] likely." 
 
5.  The Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgessen's 
11/13 meeting with LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran 
garnered significant attention.  Government-owned English 
DAILY NEWS reported (11/14), "Prabhakaran assures 
Norwegians: LTTE committed to peace process," while 
independent English daily, ISLAND soothed (11/14), "Tigers 
will respect ceasefire. "  Independent Tamil daily, 
VIRAKESARI elucidated (11/14), "Until war is waged on us, 
the agreement will be effective -  Political stability is 
required to resume talks, says LTTE Leader V. Pirabaharan," 
a headline echoed by all other Tamil dailies and pro-LTTE 
website TAMILNET (11/13).  The Sinhala press offered a 
different slant, evidenced by independent Sinhala daily 
LANKADEEPA's headline (11/14), "Skeptical about South 
crisis; Prabhakaran wants an assurance." 
 
6.  The media avidly followed the impact of the political 
crisis on economic issues.  Government-owned English DAILY 
NEWS' headline sounded a hopeful note about the Colombo 
bourse (11/13),  "Stockmarket recovers from slump," but 
independent English DAILY MIRROR was less sanguine (11/13), 
"Stock market soars on hope, inconclusive CBK - Ranil talks 
a damper."  Independent Sinhala daily LANKADEEPA's headline 
was still more pessimistic (11/14),  "FTA held up: 4 
conventions cancelled." 
 
----- 
Editorials 
----- 
 
7.  Editorial comment was heavy.  Government-owned English 
and vernacular newspapers vocally supported the President. 
Independent English editorialists criticized possible 
elections, party politics, and commented on the need to 
keep an eye on the LTTE during the crisis.  One Sinhala 
commentator supported cohabitation efforts, while a Tamil 
editor noted, "...the actions of the President are being 
considered as sinister political moves." 
 
 
----- Under the headline,  "Timely proposal of the 
President," government-owned Sinhala daily, DINAMINA 
supported the President (11/13), "No leadership can ignore 
the honest and sincere call made this time for a government 
of national reconciliation by President Chandrika 
Kumaratunga." 
 
Block quotes. 
...This time, the proposal for a national government has 
arisen with the President's experience and ability to lead 
the country as one who was returned to power with a massive 
majority twice 
over being recognized. 
 
No leadership can ignore the honest and sincere call made 
this time for a government of national reconciliation by 
President Chandrika Kumaratunga. This is the considered 
opinion of the people. 
End block quotes. 
 
 ----- Under the headline, " Growing consensus for 
political solution," government-owned English DAILY NEWS 
commented (11/13) that on the importance of the pro-peace 
stance of the clergy and the PA, and also warned 
compromising with ultra-nationalistic forces would, "... 
dilute the PA's stance on a just peace based on power- 
sharing." 
Block quotes. 
The clergy constitute an important opinion-moulding group 
and their acceptance of a political solution should be 
considered a ground-breaking development in the 
mobilisation of public opinion for peace.  Meanwhile, the 
PA has gone on record as saying that it is prepared to 
forge ahead with the peace process....Therefore, a fairly 
wide consensus could be said to exist on the need for a 
peace based on power-sharing within an united Sri Lanka, 
despite a resurgence of sorts of ultra-nationalistic 
sentiments among some sections. 
While the UNF is unambiguously committed to the current 
peace process, it is up to the PA to ensure that it has no 
truck, whatsoever, with political forces which are 
recalcitrantly opposed to the peace effort. It should be 
plain to see that an effort to make compromises with such 
forces would dilute the PA's stance on a just peace based 
on power-sharing. 
End block quotes. 
 
----- Under the headline, "Ready for Elections?" 
independent English DAILY MIRROR commented (11/13) on the 
possibility of elections, "the existing environment is 
clearly unsuitable, if the country hopes to have a 
democratic election now." 
 Block quotes. 
Are the conditions prevailing in the country today 
conducive to the conduct of democratic elections? 
Definitely not... An independent and impartial election 
commission is a sine qua non if a country is to have free 
and fair elections. In acknowledgement of this need, the 
required legislation was passed and paved way for its 
establishment. Mainly because of the ongoing political 
bickerings, the authorities have so far failed to make it a 
reality... So, the first essential prerequisite for 
elections, is the establishment of this commission. 
 
The independent police commission that was set up to 
overcome this problem, is yet to act with vigour to achieve 
the set objectives. This vital law enforcement arm of the 
state will inevitably suffer manipulation by political 
authorities during elections, if this commission fails to 
function properly. 
The state media have now come under the grip of the head of 
state who is the head of her party. Judging from what goes 
on today, it is futile to expect the state media to 
function impartially in the event of an election. 
So, the existing environment is clearly unsuitable, if the 
country hopes to have a democratic election now. 
End block quotes. 
 
----- Under the headline, "Moratorium on party politics," 
independent English DAILY MIRROR commented that (11/14), 
"If all the parties are really concerned about the 
country's future and honest about adopting a consensual 
approach to the national question, what they should 
immediately agree to is a moratorium on all political 
activity." 
Block quotes. 
It is encouraging, that the talks between the country's two 
main leaders, the President and the Premier have been 
friendly and cordial, while their followers are generating 
a politics of malice and hatred. However, what the country 
desperately needs now is a quick end to the present state 
of uncertainty and tension. 
If the leaders engage in building their own images and 
those of their parties with a view to promoting their polls 
prospects while talking of reconciliation, unity and peace, 
then their attempts to resolve the issues amicably will be 
doomed to failure. 
If all the parties are really concerned about the country's 
future and honest about adopting a consensual approach to 
the national question, what they should immediately agree 
to is a moratorium on all political activity. First they 
have to make a collective decision to suspend all elections 
until such time as a consensual and conclusive finality on 
a solution to the national issue has been reached. It is 
obviously the prospect of a snap election that has caused 
the present intensified party activity. 
If this agreement is possible, the attempt at demonstrating 
each party's strength by assembling crowds in Colombo and 
other places will cease. Therefore, political stunts of 
this nature... should take a holiday at this juncture when 
maturity and seriousness should prevail. 
End block quotes. 
---- Under the headline, "Time for Miracles," independent 
English daily, ISLAND (11/14) referred to the LTTE as the 
"source of all evil," and cautioned that it is, "..vitally 
important to keep track of the happenings in [the North and 
East] under the gun." 
Block quotes. 
Meanwhile, what is Prabakaran and his cohorts up to in the 
north and east? They are after all the fons et origo mali- 
source of all evil. For the time being, they seem to have 
been put on the back burner but it is vitally important to 
keep track of the happenings in this region under the gun. 
The realpolitik of it all is that there is not very much of 
difference between the policies of the SLFP and the UNP on 
this issue... This does not mean that the basic policies of 
the two parties on this issue are correct. For example, 
though both sides are agreeable to a federal form of 
government there is also very strong opposition to it from 
other parties as was expressed in the massive rally held at 
Campbell Park by the National Patriotic Movement on Friday. 
And even if a common policy is arrived at, the basic 
problem remains: Vellupillai Prabakaran. 
This is certainly the time Sri Lanka needs miracles, if 
they do really happen. 
End block quotes. 
 
----- Under the headline,  "Talks to build a national 
coalition," independent Sinhala daily, LAKBIMA commented 
(11/13) that cooperation between political parties, "will 
be beneficial to the country and the Nation." 
 
Block quote. 
If all parties get together to discuss a common program 
towards forming a government of National Alliance 
considering the vital role it could play in resolving the 
ethnic issue, it will be good.  If all sections have this 
important factor in mind the result will be beneficial to 
the country and the Nation. 
End block quote. 
 
----- Under the headline,  "Southern politics; Conspiracy 
after conspiracy," independent Tamil daily, THINAKKURAL 
commented (11/13)  that as they relate to Tamils, "...the 
actions of the President are being considered as sinister 
political moves." 
 
Block quote. 
After unilaterally taking over the three Ministries and 
proroguing Parliament, the President is now sending 
invitations to form a government of National 
Reconciliation. As regards the Tamil political heads and 
the Tamil people, the actions of the President are being 
considered as sinister political moves. 
End block quote. 

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