US embassy cable - 02COLOMBO2337 (original version)

Import of radio equipment for Tamil Tigers sparks controversy for GSL and Norwegian facilitators (original version)

Identifier: 02COLOMBO2337
Wikileaks: View 02COLOMBO2337 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2002-12-20 06:16:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PTER ECPS CE NO External Relations LTTE
Redacted: This cable was redacted by Wikileaks. [Show redacted version] [Compare redacted and unredacted version]
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 02 COLOMBO 002337 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR SA, SA/INS, S/CT, EUR/NB; NSC FOR E. MILLARD 
 
E.O. 12958:  DECL:  12-20-12 
TAGS: PGOV, PTER, ECPS, CE, NO, External Relations, LTTE - Peace Process 
SUBJECT:  Import of radio equipment for Tamil Tigers 
sparks controversy for GSL and Norwegian facilitators 
 
Ref:  Colombo 1891 
 
(U) Classified by Lewis Amselem, Deputy Chief of 
Mission.  Reasons 1.5 (b, d). 
 
1.  (C) SUMMARY:  The recent import of radio equipment 
for the LTTE has stirred controversy, with critics 
asserting that the government and the Norwegian 
facilitators have gone too far in pleasing the Tigers. 
In response, the GSL says it assisted in the import of 
the equipment in exchange for the LTTE's agreement to 
work within broadcasting regulations.  The Norwegians 
underscore that they were working to further the peace 
process at GSL request.  The incident has left a bad 
taste in everyone's mouth.  At the same time, it is 
important not to miss the fact that this was an instance 
where the Tigers paid heed to government regulations, 
something they never did in the past.  END SUMMARY. 
 
Import of Radio Equipment 
------------------------- 
2.  (SBU) The recent import of radio equipment into Sri 
Lanka for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) 
has stirred controversy.  The equipment in question was 
brought into Colombo harbor last month in a shipping 
container.  Because the consignment was for the 
Norwegian Embassy, no duty was paid.  The Norwegian 
Embassy has confirmed that it turned the consignment 
over to the GSL's Peace Secretariat, which then passed 
the items over to the LTTE with the assistance of the 
Defense Ministry.  At some point in this process, the 
LTTE's radio station, the "Voice of the Tigers," was 
legalized by the GSL as a private entity and given 
permission to broadcast. 
 
3.  (SBU) (((Note:  It is not exactly clear what sort of 
radio equipment the LTTE was importing, but it is 
believed to have consisted of items that would allow the 
Voice of the Tigers radio to upgrade its FM capability. 
At this time, the Voice of the Tigers has very limited 
FM and short-wave capabilities, allowing the station to 
be dimly heard in parts of the north and east -- See 
Reftel for additional background.  Some press reports 
state that the FM-upgrade equipment cost about 
USD 90,000 and that the equipment was bought in 
Singapore.  It is not clear what range the new equipment 
will allow the Voice of the Tigers to have.  The Indian 
government reportedly has expressed concerns to the GSL 
that the equipment will allow LTTE broadcasts to reach 
Tamil Nadu.  End Note.))) 
 
Controversy Erupts 
------------------ 
4.  (SBU) When word of the equipment import leaked out, 
critics pounced on the GSL and the Norwegians accusing 
them of going too far to please the Tigers.  The 
radical, Sinhalese chauvinist Janantha Vimukthi Peramuna 
(JVP) party was particularly vociferous, asserting that 
the government was helping sponsor the LTTE's 
"propaganda" campaign.  (Note:  Many Sri Lankans are 
allergic to the mere mention of the Voice of the Tigers: 
the station has broadcast some pretty bloodcurdling 
stuff in the past, including salutes to the LTTE's 
terrorist acts.)  Some newspapers criticized the 
government for undertaking the import effort in 
"secret."  Norway was particularly hard hit, with 
critics asserting (in wildly inaccurate fashion -- see 
below) that the GoN -- acting of its volition -- was 
importing equipment for the LTTE in an effort to save 
the group from paying duties to the legitimate 
government. 
 
GSL, Norwegian Response 
----------------------- 
5.  (C) In response to the flak, the government stressed 
that it was allowing the import of the equipment because 
the LTTE had agreed to accede to GSL broadcasting 
regulations.  Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke, the chief 
of the Peace Secretariat, told us that this was an 
important concession by the LTTE because for the first 
time the group had conceded that its radio station 
should follow GSL-set procedures like all other stations 
in the country.  In any case, Goonetilleke noted, the 
Tigers could have tried to import the equipment 
illegally, as they have done in the past.  If they had 
done so successfully, the government would not have had 
any leverage over their broadcasting capabilities, which 
it now has to some degree. 
 
6.  (C) For their part, the Norwegians, who have largely 
kept mum in public, have told us that they were only 
working to further the peace process at GSL request. 
Norwegian Ambassador Westborg told us that the Sri 
Lankan government had specifically requested his 
Embassy's assistance several months ago.  The GoN only 
agreed to help if the equipment was provided to the 
Peace Secretariat -- and not directly to the LTTE. 
Press reporting to the effect that the Norwegian 
government was out to assist the LTTE by undermining GSL 
authority was an outright falsehood, he emphasized. 
 
COMMENT 
------- 
7.  (C) The incident has left a bad taste in everyone's 
mouth.  The Norwegians, who have come under so much 
criticism from anti-peace process elements, feel 
particularly aggrieved at the charges.  The GSL admits 
that it did a poor job of communicating what it was 
doing.  This failure, in turn, helped set up the 
Norwegians for criticism.  Overall, while the incident 
did not really do too much damage to the peace process, 
its handling provided skeptics of the process some 
ammunition.  At the same time, it is important not to 
miss the fact that this was an instance where the Tigers 
paid heed to government regulations, something the group 
never did before the peace process was launched.  END 
COMMENT. 
 
8. (U) Minimize considered. 
 
WILLS 

Latest source of this page is cablebrowser-2, released 2011-10-04