US embassy cable - 04COLOMBO226

Sri Lanka: PM appears relaxed about elections; Mission's revised draft of February 17 joint statement

Identifier: 04COLOMBO226
Wikileaks: View 04COLOMBO226 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2004-02-10 10:32:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PREL PGOV EAID CE JA NO EU 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.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 000226 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR D, SA, SA/INS 
 
NSC FOR E. MILLARD 
 
E.O. 12958:         DECL:  02/10/14 
TAGS: PREL, PGOV, EAID, CE, JA, NO, EU, Elections, Political Parties 
SUBJECT:  Sri Lanka: PM appears relaxed about elections; 
Mission's revised draft of February 17 joint statement 
 
Refs:  (A) SA/INS - Colombo 02/09/04 unclass e-mail 
 
-      (B) Colombo 217 
-      (C) Colombo 154 
 
(U) Classified by Ambassador Jeffrey J. Lunstead. 
Reasons 1.5 (b,d). 
 
1.  (C) SUMMARY:  Ambassador Lunstead met with Prime 
Minister Wickremesinghe late February 9.  The PM 
appeared relaxed regarding the just announced 
parliamentary elections scheduled to take place April 2. 
He said he had always expected President Kumaratunga to 
go for elections and he predicted that his party would 
do well in them.  He said he hoped the peace process was 
not harmed by what would probably be a rough campaign. 
He did not provide any indication on how cohabitation 
ties might be improved after the elections if his party 
wins. 
 
2.  (C) The PM also said he definitely thought that the 
Tokyo co-chairs meeting on February 17 in Washington 
should go forward.  Despite the collapse of the 
cohabitation talks and the calling of elections, Mission 
strongly agrees with that assessment.  A revised draft 
of a suggested joint statement to be issued after the 
February 17 meeting is for Department's review in 
Para 8.  END SUMMARY. 
 
--------------- 
Meeting with PM 
--------------- 
 
3.  (C) Ambassador Lunstead met with Prime Minister 
Ranil Wickremesinghe late February 9.  The PM appeared 
relaxed regarding the parliamentary elections called by 
President Kumaratunga on February 7 and scheduled to 
take place April 2 (see Ref B).  Wickremesinghe related 
that he found Kumaratunga "more and more erratic," but 
said he had always thought that she would call 
elections.  In the final analysis, a cohabitation deal 
simply did not seem possible.  He had offered to drop 
his demand that all Defense Ministry powers be returned 
to his government and had said he was willing to share 
them with her.  She had demanded, however, that he also 
agree to postpone Provincial Council (PC) elections. 
(Note:  PC elections seem set to take place after the 
April 2 parliamentary elections.)  He could not agree to 
that. 
 
4.  (C) Regarding reports that the President wants 
wholesale cutbacks in the PM's 60-plus ministerial 
cohort, the Prime Minister confirmed that she could fire 
ministers during the pre-election timeframe.  The PM 
noted that she could fire him, for example.  At this 
point, she could not add new ministers, however.  Asked 
about prospects for the elections, Wickremesinghe said 
he was confident that his United National Party (UNP) 
would do well.  The UNP had done very well in the March 
2002 Local Council elections, for example.  He also 
thought that the UNP would do well with Sri Lanka's 
estimated 400,000 new voters.  Wickremesinghe said he 
thought that the calling of early elections was not 
popular with the public.  Kumaratunga and her party 
would take the blame for that, as they were the ones 
that wanted elections.  The UNP would make the peace 
process and the economy key issues in the campaign.  It 
would be "between him and her," the PM said referring to 
Kumaratunga.  He did not provide any indication on how 
cohabitation ties might be improved after the elections 
if the UNP wins. 
 
5.  (C) Regarding the peace process, he said he hoped 
the upcoming campaign did not damage the progress that 
has been made.  He expected a tough, divisive campaign, 
however.  The President's recent appointment of former 
foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar as Minister of 
Information and Media was bound to upset the Tamil 
Tigers, he said.  (Note:  Kadirgamar is a Tamil fiercely 
and vocally opposed to the Tigers.  To protect him, his 
residence in Colombo is fortified and bristling with 
many armed guards.)  The Prime Minister noted that he 
had spoken with Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar and 
asked him to pass a message to the group to the effect 
that he (the PM) had not been the one who called for 
elections and did not want them.  (Note:  In a February 
8 posting on the pro-Tiger website "TamilNet, the group 
called the elections "a grave setback" for the peace 
process, but underscored their adherence to the 
ceasefire and peace in general -- see Ref B.) 
 
----------------------------- 
COMMENT:  FEBRUARY 17 MEETING 
----------------------------- 
 
6.  (C) The PM also said he definitely thought that the 
Tokyo co-chairs meeting on February 17 in Washington 
should go ahead.  He thought the meeting was an 
important opportunity for the international community to 
underscore its support for the peace process, and to 
underline that Sri Lanka should expand on the gains that 
have been achieved and not go backward. 
 
7.  (C) We have spoken to numerous contacts who agree 
with that view, and, as flagged in Ref B, our assessment 
is that the meeting should go forward.  Mission has 
provided Department a revised draft of a suggested joint 
co-chairs statement to be issued after the meeting, 
which is contained in Para 8.  (Note:  Ref C contained 
Mission's initial draft, in addition to an in-depth 
analysis of Sri Lanka's political and economic 
situation, as well as options in the assistance arena.) 
Compared to the initial draft, this revised draft has 
only a few changes, noting, for example, the 
international community's disappointment at the failure 
of the cohabitation talks.  It also calls for free, fair 
and peaceful parliamentary elections that would be 
followed in a timely way by a resumption of the peace 
talks.  As with the initial draft, the revised draft 
also underscores the need to increase the pace of 
delivery of assistance, while noting that the full 
release of assistance funds will not be possible without 
progress at the peace table.  END COMMENT. 
 
----------------------------------------- 
Revised Draft of Proposed Joint Statement 
----------------------------------------- 
 
8.  (SBU) Revised draft of proposed Tokyo co-chairs 
statement to be issued after the February 17 meeting in 
Washington follows: 
 
Begin text: 
 
(Opening pleasantries, etc.)...and we are pleased to 
note that the ceasefire in Sri Lanka has held for two 
years.  With each passing month of peace, more displaced 
Sri Lankans continue to return to their homes, more 
humanitarian demining occurs, and daily life in 
previously contested areas becomes progressively more 
settled and bearable.  The co-chairs applaud these 
indicators of peace, while at the same item calling for 
the earliest possible resumption of the peace talks 
which have been suspended since April 2003.  Progress at 
the peace table is essential if the encouraging progress 
in the peace process is to be sustained. 
 
In the same vein, the co-chairs note their 
disappointment that the "cohabitation" talks in the 
South between the President and the Prime Minister did 
not result in an agreement.  The tense situation in the 
South remains a serious impediment to an early return to 
the peace table, and is also harming prospects for 
economic investment and growth.  The co-chairs call on 
all political figures in Sri Lanka to work to ensure 
that the upcoming parliamentary elections are free, 
fair, and peaceful, and that the campaign is not used in 
ways that undermine the important gains that have been 
made in the peace process.  After the elections 
conclude, we urge that the parties in the South work 
expeditiously to find a method to establish clarity of 
responsibilities, so that the peace negotiations -- and 
the entire process of governance -- can resume 
regardless of which party or parties form the majority 
in Parliament. 
 
The co-chairs also note that in the absence of peace 
negotiations support for the peace process throughout 
the country becomes even more important.  They call on 
all donors to find appropriate mechanisms through which 
adequate amounts of humanitarian relief and assistance 
to improve the quality of life at the community level 
can continue to be delivered to all needy areas of the 
country.  At the same time, the co-chairs wish to draw 
attention to the specific language in the Tokyo accords 
which makes clear that full release of aid funds pledged 
at the Tokyo conference cannot go forward in the absence 
of substantive progress at the peace table. (Closing 
pleasantries, etc.)... 
 
End text. 
 
9.  (U) Minimize considered. 
 
LUNSTEAD 

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