US embassy cable - 02COLOMBO2355

President backs military on Jaffna security zones; GSL defends role in import of equipment for LTTE

Identifier: 02COLOMBO2355
Wikileaks: View 02COLOMBO2355 at
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2002-12-30 10:08:00
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 02 COLOMBO 002355 
E.O. 12958:  DECL:  12-30-12 
TAGS: PGOV, PTER, MOPS, ECPS, CE, NO, LTTE - Peace Process, External Relations 
SUBJECT:  President backs military on Jaffna security 
zones; GSL defends role in import of equipment for LTTE 
Refs:  Colombo 2353, and previous 
(U) Classified by Long Lee, Acting Deputy Chief of 
Mission.  Reasons 1.5 (b, d). 
1.  (C) SUMMARY:  President Kumaratunga has come out 
strongly in favor of the Sri Lankan military's position 
on the need to maintain "high security zones" in Jaffna. 
For its part, the LTTE has announced that it wants to 
discuss the security zone issue at the next round of 
political-level talks.  In the meantime, the GSL has 
issued a long document defending its role in the recent 
import of radio equipment for the LTTE.  At this point, 
despite real friction over the security zones, it is 
positive that the GSL and the LTTE have so far indicated 
a willingness to discuss the issue further.  END 
Kumaratunga Enters the Fray 
2.  (C) President Kumaratunga has come out strongly in 
favor of the Sri Lankan military's position on the "high 
security zones" in Jaffna.  (Note:  In a proposal 
rejected by the LTTE late last week, the military 
advocated that the zones only be opened to resettlement 
if the LTTE agrees to strict conditions, including 
disarming of any LTTE cadre entering them -- See 
Reftels.  Mission is faxing SA/INS a map of the zones.) 
Kumaratunga's involvement in the issue began late 
December 27 when her office issued a press release 
expressing concern about the LTTE's position and 
announcing that she was cutting short her vacation in 
order to return to Colombo to deal with the situation. 
In dramatic tones, the statement ended by saying, "The 
President's Office will keep the public further informed 
as events unfold."  On December 28, Kumaratunga met Army 
Commander Lt. General Balagalle and Major General 
Fonseka, the Jaffna Army commander, to review the 
matter.  According to leaks of what happened at the 
meeting, Kumaratunga told the two that she was strongly 
in support of the military's position that the security 
zones were critical to the defense of Jaffna and should 
not be dramatically reduced in size. 
3.  (C) Queried about Kumaratunga's intervention, Jehan 
Perera, the head of a local think-tank, told us that she 
seemed to be "angling for cohabitation advantage." 
Kumaratunga, he said, was clearly trying to create "a 
crisis atmosphere" by warning the government that it 
should not undermine the military's position by going 
too far to accommodate the LTTE.  By publicizing her 
position, Perera remarked that Kumaratunga had probably 
"scored some political points" on the government.  He 
thought that any damage to the GSL was limited, however, 
as most people realized that the issue of the security 
zones needed to be discussed with the LTTE.  It was not 
enough simply to try to turn off debate, which was what 
Kumaratunga seemed to be trying to do. 
LTTE Backs Further Discussion 
4.  (C) After issuing its strongly worded rejection of 
the military's proposal on the security zones (see 
Reftel), the LTTE seems to be taking a more moderate 
tack at this time.  In comments posted on the pro-LTTE 
website "TamilNet" on December 29, LTTE senior 
negotiator Anton Balasingham aimed some fire at the Sri 
Lankan military, which he said was taking a "hard-line 
attitude" on the security zone matter.  By taking its 
stand, Balasingham asserted, the military was preventing 
the resettlement of Tamil civilians in Jaffna.  That 
said, Balasingham went on to stress that the LTTE was 
still strongly in support of the peace process and 
looked forward to discussing the security zone issue at 
the January 6-9 round of talks in Thailand.  Queried 
about a proposal put forward by the Sri Lanka Monitoring 
Mission (SLMM), Balasingham said he did not know whether 
a meeting of the Sub-Committee on De-Escalation and 
Normalization focused on discussing the security zone 
issue would "materialize."  He indicated that the LTTE 
believed the sub-committee was "defunct," as it had 
failed to make progress in solving the issue.  The group 
now preferred to discuss the matter at the political- 
level talks. 
GSL Defends Import of Radio Equipment 
5.  (SBU) Turning to another contentious issue, the 
government has issued a long document explaining its 
decision to allow the import of equipment upgrading the 
LTTE's radio capabilities (See Reftels).  The document, 
which received significant media coverage, stated that 
the GSL allowed the import of the equipment only after 
the LTTE agreed to apply for a license and to broadcast 
subject to Sri Lankan government regulations.  The 
document went on to note that:  "The public will 
appreciate that the willingness of the LTTE to submit 
itself to the authority of the government is a 180 
degree change from that which prevailed earlier when the 
LTTE ran an illegal and unauthorized radio operation." 
Responding to allegations that the Norwegian Embassy 
should not have been involved in the import of the 
equipment (it was consignee), the document made clear 
that it was the GSL that asked the GoN to get involved 
in the matter.  The document added that the Norwegians 
only became involved when they became convinced that 
helping facilitate the import of the equipment was in 
the best interests of the peace process. 
6.  (C) The government's document seems to have gone 
some way in explaining to the public the circumstances 
surrounding the import of the equipment.  Jehan Perera 
said he thought that the controversy over the issue 
would now die down to a large extent.  Perera added that 
the government had handled the issue "clumsily" by not 
taking the issue public earlier.  By its failure to get 
its side of the story out earlier, the government had 
also hurt the Norwegian facilitators, who had been made 
to seem almost pro-LTTE by some elements in the press. 
In a sign that the issue may not be going away soon, 
Harim Peiris, a spokesman for President Kumaratunga, 
told us that the government's explanation of its 
involvement was "too little and too late."  Peiris added 
that Kumaratunga wanted a "full accounting" and might 
write to the Norwegian PM requesting an explanation of 
the GoN role in the matter. 
7.  (C) As it tries to manage the blowups over the radio 
equipment and Jaffna security zones, the GSL seems a bit 
on the defensive.  With Kumaratunga and others hitting 
out hard against the LTTE, the government is finding its 
room for maneuver narrowing to some extent.  At this 
point, however, it is positive that the GSL and the LTTE 
have so far indicated a willingness to discuss the 
security zone issue further, despite real friction over 
how to resolve it.  Still acting in almost a binary 
manner as far as the peace process is concerned, neither 
side seems to want things to come to a crisis point 
where they cannot negotiate a way out.  END COMMENT. 
8.  (U) Minimize considered. 

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