US embassy cable - 03COLOMBO202

Senior GSL Minister G.L. Peiris previews Berlin round and next steps for peace process

Identifier: 03COLOMBO202
Wikileaks: View 03COLOMBO202 at
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2003-02-05 10:32:00
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.

051032Z Feb 03
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 000202 
E.O. 12958:  DECL: 02/05/13 
SUBJECT:  Senior GSL Minister G.L. Peiris previews 
Berlin round and next steps for peace process 
Refs:  Colombo 194, and previous 
(U) Classified by Lewis Amselem, Deputy Chief of 
Mission. Reasons 1.5 (b,d). 
1.  (C/NF) SUMMARY:  In a February 3 meeting with the 
Ambassador, senior Sri Lankan Minister Peiris -- like 
other contacts -- set low expectations for the 
February 7-8 GSL-LTTE talks in Berlin.  He said he 
primarily wanted to use Berlin to lay the groundwork for 
future rounds, including by raising division of power 
issues.  He also underscored the importance of phased 
disarmament/demobilization by the LTTE.  He said the GSL 
was newly focused on the need to show economic progress. 
Peiris was as sharp as ever, but seemed a bit weary with 
the weighty issues he is contending with.  END SUMMARY. 
2.  (C/NF) The Ambassador and polchief met February 3 
with G.L. Peiris, the GSL Minister of Constitutional 
Affairs and Enterprise Development, and a key player on 
peace process issues.  As with other contacts (see 
Reftels, including comments by GSL Minister Moragoda), 
Peiris set low expectations for the GSL talks with the 
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) slated to take 
place in Berlin, February 7-8.  (Note:  The Berlin talks 
will constitute the fifth round of talks held between 
the two sides since September 2002.  The Norwegian 
government is facilitating the talks.)  One of the key 
reasons for low expectations, Peiris related, was that 
LTTE senior negotiator Anton Balasingham will not have 
been able to receive a briefing from LTTE leaders before 
Berlin and, thus, would not have received a "new 
mandate" from them.  Given this situation, Balasingham 
would probably be reluctant to make any new commitments 
in Berlin.  (Note:  Balasingham had been scheduled to 
visit the LTTE-controlled Wanni region in northern Sri 
Lanka in January, but postponed the visit due to health 
3.  (C/NF) One item on the agenda for Berlin, Peiris 
noted, was that of humanitarian and developmental 
assistance to LTTE-controlled areas.  The Tigers had 
been vociferously complaining that the GSL's delivery of 
such assistance was poor and plagued by bureaucracy. 
Admitting to the Ambassador that the GSL was having a 
problem coordinating such assistance, Peiris wanted to 
use Berlin to assure the LTTE that the government was 
committed to do doing a better job in this area. 
(Note:  In addition to assistance, human rights in LTTE- 
controlled areas are another agenda item.) 
4.  (C/NF)  To stimulate LTTE thinking about the way 
ahead, Peiris remarked that he planned to hold a 
"private" meeting with Balasingham on the margins of the 
Berlin talks.  At that meeting and in other discussions 
in the near-term, he wanted to touch on a number of 
issues with the LTTE, including: 
-- DIVISION OF POWERS:  In his private chat with 
Balasingham, he wanted to raise possible division of 
power options relating to the north and east.  The idea 
would be for the two sides to come up with a document 
that set out which powers would remain with the "center" 
and which would be given to a north/east unit.  This 
document would represent a blueprint for a possible 
final settlement down the road.  It might be possible to 
publicize an agreement on this issue at the March round 
if Balasingham was able to vet it with his authorities 
during his planned trip to the Wanni in early March. 
(Note:  The sixth round of talks is scheduled to take 
place in Japan, March 18-21.)  Re another division of 
powers issue, Peiris said the Muslim demand for a 
separate unit was not feasible.  Muslims needed some 
protections, but these would have to worked out once a 
GSL-LTTE constitutional framework had been settled on -- 
and not before.  It was unfortunate that Muslim leader 
Rauf Hakeem continued to demand a unit, but he was a 
weak leader trying to score points with his community. 
(Note:  Peiris noted that in a visit to India later this 
month he planned to study how the Indian government 
dealt with minority issues in Darjeeling.  What the GoI 
did regarding this region might be a possible model for 
what the GSL did regarding the Muslims, i.e., providing 
a community protections without creation of a full-blown 
constitutionally-mandated entity.) 
disarmament/demobilization issues were important and 
needed to be discussed soon with the LTTE.  The GSL's 
strong view was that the LTTE had to take phased steps 
along the road toward disarmament and demobilization. 
The idea was for the LTTE's military to be eventually 
brought into the Sri Lankan military structure.  If all 
the LTTE's troops could not fit into the GSL military, 
then "productive" jobs would need to be found for those 
that were demobilized.  It was also possible, however, 
that some LTTE units might be devolved into some sort of 
police or "civil guard" for the north and east.  The 
Ambassador asked whether the GSL had given any thought 
to the notion that the LTTE might agree to international 
supervision of its long-range weapons on the Jaffna 
Peninsula.  (Note:  The Indian High Commissioner and the 
Ambassador discussed this idea in a February 3 meeting, 
per Reftel.)  Peiris responded that this was a very 
constructive idea.  (Note:  At the request of the GSL, 
Satish Nambiar, a retired Indian general, has been 
visiting Sri Lanka the past several days.  Nambiar's 
brief is to review the Sri Lankan military's security 
zones in Jaffna, and other matters related to possible 
military drawdowns by the GSL and LTTE.) 
-- LOCAL ELECTIONS IN NE:  Another matter that Peiris 
said he planned to raise with Balasingham involved local 
elections in the north and east.  These elections had 
been scheduled to take place last year, but had been 
postponed at the behest of the LTTE.  The government was 
coming under some pressure to hold the elections because 
they could not be postponed indefinitely per the Sri 
Lankan Constitution.  He added that he thought the 
holding of elections would be a good idea because it 
would test the support of the pro-LTTE Tamil National 
Alliance (TNA).  Although the TNA would probably sweep 
the board, it would have to do so in a democratic 
context, with other parties -- including anti-LTTE Tamil 
parties (the EPDP, EPRLF) -- allowed to participate. 
Peiris said he planned to review with Balasingham the 
idea of holding the elections in May 2003.  He was not 
sure what the LTTE's reaction would be. 
5.  (C/NF) Wrapping up this part of the conversation, 
Peiris commented that what the government most needed 
from the LTTE soon was some sort of "signal" from the 
group.  While it was not clear, it seemed that the group 
was content as things were and it was not considering 
the next steps.  This was creating a problem for the 
GSL, which needed to show the public in the south that 
the process still had traction.  Given this situation, 
some sort of move by the Tigers showing that they are 
intent on ending forced child recruitment or ending 
taxation or starting disarmament, etc., would be most 
welcome.  It would show to the Sinhalese south that the 
LTTE was committed to the process and wanted to make it 
irreversible.  He added that he intended to tell 
Balasingham that positive moves would also help with 
opening the pockets of donors in the run-up to the 
international conference planned for Tokyo in June.  The 
Ambassador, underscoring U.S. support for the GSL's 
peace initiative, remarked that Peiris' thinking was on 
target in that it was high time that the LTTE did more 
to move the peace process forward. 
6.  (C/NF) While working on the peace process, Peiris 
underlined that the government was also focused on the 
economy.  The GSL knew that the president and the rest 
of the opposition, including the radical Janantha 
Vimukthi Peramuna party (JVP), were trying to make the 
economy a big issue.  While the government felt 
relatively positive about rural areas, since the recent 
harvest had been good, it was a bit worried about urban 
areas where there had been price rises and other 
dislocations.  The Prime Minister had ordered ministers 
to travel the country to show their concern about the 
economy to the public.  Peiris related that he had 
recently visited Matara, a district in the deep south, 
to highlight various government initiatives.  He noted 
that the United National Party (UNP) -- based on past 
stints in power -- had a good reputation as a manager of 
the economy, which it not want to lose.  The Ambassador 
commented that this renewed emphasis on the economy was 
positive.  That said, the U.S. would urge the government 
to continue to make economic reform and liberalization 
key priorities.  Simply because the government felt 
vulnerable on the economy, did not mean it should put 
these priorities on the backburner.  Peiris replied that 
reform and liberalization remained on the agenda, 
although plans in these areas needed careful modulation. 
7.  (C/NF) Peiris, one of the country's best and most 
learned lawyers, is known to be extremely bright, and -- 
true to form -- he was as sharp as ever in the meeting. 
His comments indicated that he was thinking out 
complicated next steps in the peace process, including 
engagement with the LTTE on division of powers and on 
disarmament/demobilization issues.  Whether the LTTE 
wants to play ball is another question entirely, but 
Peiris, at least, seemed to have a sensible-sounding 
outline of a plan.  As Peiris discussed these matters, 
however, there was a bit of weariness about him, as if 
all the weighty issues he is contending with are getting 
him down.  We had also noticed this seeming fatigue 
during a recent meeting with Milinda Moragoda, another 
key minister (see Reftel).  It is as if the GSL has its 
hands full and is sweating it out a bit -- which is 
probably not the best frame of mind to have when 
negotiating with the hedgehog-like LTTE.  END COMMENT. 
8. (U) Minimize considered. 

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