US embassy cable - 02COLOMBO1891

Peace process update: Detainees go on hunger strike; Tensions in east; Tamil Tiger radio

Identifier: 02COLOMBO1891
Wikileaks: View 02COLOMBO1891 at
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2002-10-09 11:05:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
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 001891 
E.O. 12958:  DECL:  10-09-12 
SUBJECT:  Peace process update:  Detainees go on 
hunger strike; Tensions in east; Tamil Tiger radio 
Refs:  Colombo 1858, and previous 
(U) Classified by W. Lewis Amselem, Deputy Chief of 
Mission.  Reasons 1.5 (b, d). 
1.  (C) This update of Sri Lanka's peace process reviews 
the following: 
-- Demanding immediate release, Tamil detainees go on 
hunger strike 
-- Amid strong hints that a resolution may be near, 
standoff involving captured soldiers continues 
-- Tigers reportedly attack office of pro-government 
Tamil party 
-- Continuing cyclical trend, Muslims in east said to be 
riled over what they consider their marginalization 
-- The flavor of the peace process:  After years of 
clandestine operations, "Voice of the Tigers" radio said 
to want official frequency 
Detainees go on Hunger Strike 
2.  (U) About 150 Tamil detainees with suspected ties to 
the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been on 
a hunger strike since October 1.  The detainees are 
demanding their immediate release from jails in Kalutara 
(south of Colombo) and Batticaloa in the east.  The 
prisoners assert that the law they are being held under, 
the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), is unfair and 
should be repealed. 
3.  (C) The situation is becoming a bit of a cause 
celebre.  Various GSL ministers have been streaming to 
the jail to urge the prisoners to break their fast. 
Under pressure from the government, the Attorney 
General's office has also announced that it will see 
what it can do to obtain early releases for some of 
those detained.  (Note:  The AG's office has already 
taken steps that have resulted in the release of 
hundreds of PTA suspects this year.  Many of those 
currently detained are reportedly hard-core LTTE 
operatives, who were engaged in clear-cut terrorist- 
related activities.)  Tamil politicians are also turning 
up the heat and are scheduled to visit Kalutara today to 
check on the detainees' health.  (Note:  Most of the 
detainees seem to be in good health, but some are 
reportedly growing quite weak.)  Supporting the 
strikers, G.G. Ponnambalam, a senior Tamil National 
Alliance MP, told us that the government must "remove 
the PTA" because it is "contrary to all humanitarian 
4.  (C) Comment:  The detainees have chosen a clever 
tactic:  Perhaps because of Mahatma Gandhi's regional 
legacy, hunger strikes -- despite a ritualistic quality 
-- spark sympathy in Sri Lanka.  That said, our guess is 
that the uproar over this issue is LTTE-generated to a 
large extent.  The following sequence of events is 
almost certainly more than a coincidence:   The LTTE 
delegates at the recent peace talks in Thailand raise 
the PTA issue with the GSL team, but to no avail.  Two 
weeks later the detainees begin a hunger strike, which 
is publicly (and loudly) supported by pro-LTTE Tamil 
politicians.  End Comment. 
Standoff May Be Resolved Soon 
5.  (SBU) Amid some positive noises that a resolution 
may be very near, the standoff over the LTTE's detention 
of six Sri Lankan soldiers continues.  (Note:  The 
soldiers have been held by the LTTE since their 
September 25 capture in Trincomalee District.  One other 
soldier was released last week on humanitarian grounds.) 
Despite vigorous entreaties from the GSL and the Sri 
Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), the LTTE has refused to 
release the soldiers until two of its own cadre are 
released in a de facto exchange.  Extensive pressure has 
been put on the GSL to take steps against the LTTE and 
force the group to resolve the dispute (see Reftel). 
Choosing a softer approach, the GSL arranged a bail 
hearing for the two LTTE cadre on October 7.  The SLMM 
told us that the incident may be resolved as early as 
later today.  (Note:  Mission has received late word 
that the LTTE cadre were released early October 9 after 
obtaining bail and that the soldiers' release also may 
be imminent.) 
6.  (C) Comment:  The government's first priority 
throughout this incident has been to defuse it as 
quickly as possible so that it did not prove disruptive 
for the peace process.  With the LTTE playing 
unrelenting hard ball, that strategy has not been 
totally successful.  In playing this game, the LTTE may 
reap a short-term gain by obtaining the release of its 
cadre.  In the longer term, however, the group has 
dented its image as a cooperative partner in the peace 
process -- and made the GSL look weak in the process. 
End Comment. 
Tigers Reportedly Attack Party Office 
7.  (SBU) LTTE operatives are being accused of attacking 
the office of a pro-government Tamil party on October 5. 
The incident reportedly involved an attack by a group of 
lightly armed men on an office of the Eelam People's 
Democratic Party (EPDP) on Delft Island off the coast of 
Jaffna.  Several people were lightly injured in the 
melee and there was some damage to the EPDP's office. 
The EPDP, which has also claimed that one of its party 
members was briefly abducted, has placed blame on the 
Tigers, asserting that the attack was led by a LTTE 
operative named "Carter."  (Note:  This is another 
interesting LTTE nom de guerre, following along the 
lines of other cadre we have heard of with White House- 
flavored names like "Kennedy" and "Reagan."  We are not 
sure what the gag is here, but it is apparently amusing 
to the LTTE.  End Note.)  For its part, the LTTE has 
denied involvement.  The SLMM is investigating the 
8.  (C) Comment:  The EPDP acted as a pro-government 
paramilitary organization for years before it agreed to 
disarm earlier this year.  (Note:  Along with several 
other Tamil paramilitary groups, the EPDP did turn in 
some of its weapons.  It is said to have retained some, 
however.)  The group, which has been largely pro-peace 
process in its public utterances, has long maintained 
strength in the islands off Jaffna.  The LTTE has been 
actively challenging the EPDP's political control of the 
islands and it would not be surprising if it was indeed 
behind the Delft attack.  End Comment. 
Tensions in East 
9.  (C) Mission has picked up numerous recent reports 
that Muslims in the east are again very upset over the 
peace process.  The active ingredient in the latest 
uptick in tensions involves recent comments by Rauf 
Hakeem, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader and 
GSL Minister.  In a statement in late September, Hakeem, 
who was a member of the GSL's negotiating team during 
the recent Thailand talks, said he did not see the need 
for Muslims in the east to have a separate governing 
council in any interim administration formed for the 
region.  These comments were explosive in the east and 
many eastern Muslim leaders denounced Hakeem.  Jehan 
Perera of the National Peace Council, a local think- 
tank, told us that Hakeem's comments were "ill-advised," 
as they signaled to eastern Muslims that they were a 
"marginalized group." 
10.  (C) Comment:  The tensions among Muslims in the 
east are cyclical and Hakeem's remarks clearly provoked 
anger after several months of relative calm.  It is not 
clear why Hakeem made his remarks, as it is widely 
agreed that the best path at this time is for both the 
GSL and LTTE to avoid discussion of "big picture" 
structural issues.  Hakeem, who is not from the east, 
also did himself a disservice by reinforcing among 
eastern Muslims the perception, real or imagined, that 
he does not cater to their concerns.  End Comment. 
"Voice of the Tigers" 
11.  (SBU) The LTTE's "Voice of the Tigers" clandestine 
radio service is said to want to obtain a FM frequency 
from the Sri Lankan government.  The LTTE reportedly 
made this request to GSL officials during recent mid- 
level meetings in Kilinochchi, the LTTE's headquarters 
in the north.  Confirming that it had heard of the 
LTTE's interest in obtaining a frequency, the 
government's Telecommunications Regulatory Commission 
(TRC) has told us that the Tigers have not filed an 
official application as of yet.  The TRC says the 
request lies with the Peace Secretariat. 
12.  (C) In making the request, the Tigers are 
apparently looking for countrywide radio coverage.  At 
this time, the Voice of the Tigers can only be tuned in 
on limited FM and short-wave radio frequencies in 
northern and eastern Sri Lanka, and only at night. 
(Note:  The FM frequency is between 94.1 and 96; the 
short-wave frequency is on 41 meter bands.)  The Tigers 
presumably want all-island coverage in order to reach 
out to Tamils in Colombo and central Sri Lanka (unless 
they also go in for English or Sinhala services, in 
addition to their Tamil-language broadcasts). 
13.  (C) Comment:  The Voice of the Tigers has broadcast 
some pretty bloodcurdling stuff in the past, including 
salutes to the LTTE's many terrorist acts.  The fact 
that the Tigers apparently feel comfortable approaching 
the GSL regarding an expansion of services -- and that 
the government seems to be considering the request -- is 
a solid indication of how far the peace process has 
caught on.  It is not clear how popular Tiger radio 
might be if it is ever given wide exposure.  Renditions 
of LTTE "patriotic" music and replays of turgid speeches 
by V. Prabhakaran, the group's leader, would probably 
only have a limited appeal in the south, to put it 
mildly.  End Comment. 
14.  (U) Minimize considered. 

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