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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
02COLOMBO2080
2002-11-05 11:40:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Colombo
Cable title:  

Reviewing recent talks, Norwegian envoy upbeat,

Tags:  PGOV PTER EAID PINR CE NO TH LTTE 
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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 04 COLOMBO 002080 

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SA, SA/INS, S/CT, INR/NESA; NSC FOR E.
MILLARD

LONDON FOR POL/RIEDEL

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11-05-2002
TAGS: PGOV PTER EAID PINR CE NO TH LTTE
SUBJECT: Reviewing recent talks, Norwegian envoy upbeat,
but stresses that process still has long way to go

Refs: (A) Bangkok 7737
- (B) Colombo 2064, and previous

(U) Classified by Ambassador E. Ashley Wills.
Reasons 1.5 (b,d).



1. (C) SUMMARY: In a November 4 meeting with
Ambassador Wills, Norwegian Ambassador Westborg was
upbeat about the recently concluded second session of
GSL-LTTE talks, but stressed that the process still had
a long way to go. He took note of the LTTE's apparent
downgrading of its long-standing demand for an "interim
administration" and the group's willingness to
participate in a sub-committee on political issues. He
confirmed that the sub-committee on humanitarian issues
would be a decision-making body. Westborg hoped that
Muslim-LTTE relations would improve due to the talks and
he provided insights on LTTE dynamics. Unlike some of
the effusive press coverage, Westborg's review was sober
and we thought it hit the mark. END SUMMARY.



--------------------------


Westborg: Upbeat but Cautious


--------------------------





2. (C) Ambassador Wills, accompanied by polchief, met
late November 4 with Norwegian Ambassador Jon Westborg,
a member of the GoN peace facilitation team at the just-
concluded second session of talks held between the Sri
Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE). (Note: The talks took place October 31 -
November 3 at a hotel outside of Bangkok -- See
Reftels.) Westborg was upbeat about the outcome of the
talks. "The two sides accomplished many small things,
which added up to a lot," he commented. These
accomplishments had been achieved despite two
"torpedoes" that could have broken up the talks. First,
the LTTE side did not let a Colombo court's recent
conviction in absentia of its leader, V. Prabhakaran, of
involvement in a 1996 terror attack disrupt the talks
(see Ref B). Second, the LTTE reacted calmly to the
news that six of its cadre had been arrested carrying
arms off the eastern coast on November 1.



3. (C) Despite the positive outcome of the talks,
Westborg stressed that it was important not to get
carried away. Some of the press coverage had been too
effusive in asserting, for example, that the talks had
led to a "breakthrough" for the peace process. "The
process still has a very long way to go and everyone
should realize that," Westborg underlined. Caution in
these type of situations was important, as many things
could happen. The Ambassador noted that he appreciated
Westborg's sober assessment, adding that Norway deserved
congratulations for keeping the process together and
increasing its momentum.



--------------------------



--------------------------


"Interim Administration," Political Sub-Committee


--------------------------



--------------------------





4. (C) Asked for other insights into the talks,
Westborg replied that it was important not to overlook
LTTE senior negotiator Anton Balasingham's comment that
the group "may or may not" support formation of an
"interim administration" for the north and east. (Note:
See Ref B Para 4 for the text of Balasingham's remark,
which was made at the November 3 press conference
concluding the talks.) The peace track has had its ups-
and-downs over the years, but one constant has been the
LTTE's demand for the setting up of an interim
administration to be followed down the road by a final
settlement, he noted. While not foreclosing on that
demand, Balasingham's comment called it into question.
In doing this, Westborg related, the LTTE seemed to be
acknowledging that the whole issue of an interim
administration had become more trouble than it might be
worth. There was serious opposition in the south to the
notion that the GSL would turn over the north and east
to an administration effectively controlled by the LTTE.
In addition, Westborg commented, the LTTE was probably
becoming worried that if it was given control of an
interim administration it would actually have to govern.
The group probably realized that this would be difficult
to do, especially in areas it was not in total armed
control of, and it did not want to be called to account.



5. (C) The LTTE's apparent downgrading of the need for
an interim administration was matched in importance by
its acceptance of the idea of forming a sub-committee on
political matters, Westborg remarked. (Note: At the
talks, the GSL and the LTTE agreed to set up three sub-
committees focused on political, humanitarian and de-
escalation issues -- See Reftels.) What was especially
important about this sub-committee's ambit, he
continued, was that it would reach for "broad political
understandings." The sub-committee also could meet at
any time the parties wanted it to, not only at plenary
sessions of the talks.



6. (C) In the short-term, Westborg allowed, the
formation of the sub-committee would also undercut
President Kumaratunga's public assertion that the talks
were not dealing with "core" issues. (Note: FYI:
Westborg said he planned to brief Kumaratunga on the
talks on November 5.) This was an advantage for the
government. In the longer term, the political sub-
committee could also be the forum where the LTTE and GSL
tackle tough issues related to managing the north and
east until a final settlement is reached, particularly
if the idea of forming an interim administration is
dropped.



7. (C) In reference to "core" issues, the Ambassador
asked whether the issue of decommissioning of LTTE
weapons had been raised. Westborg replied that it had
not, but he acknowledged that it was an issue that would
have to be addressed in the future. Ambassador Wills
agreed, noting that the idea that the LTTE might
maintain an army and a navy would be controversial,
indeed unacceptable, in the south. It would be
understandable if the group wanted to have a police
force, but a military force would add an element of
unpredictability that would prove tough to digest. The
Ambassador added that any notion that the Sri Lankan
security forces would completely withdraw from the north
and east, as some pro-LTTE Tamils were advocating, was
also a non-starter.



--------------------------


Review of Humanitarian Sub-Committee


--------------------------





8. (C) Shifting focus, Westborg also reviewed what the
two sides had agreed to regarding the "Immediate
Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs in the North and
East" Sub-Committee. He underscored that this sub-
committee had replaced the "joint task force" ("JTF")
idea (which had been agreed to at the first session of
talks in mid-September). The humanitarian sub-committee
would deal with the same issues as the "JTF," however.
It would be a joint government-LTTE "decision-making
body" for prioritizing and disbursing assistance to the
north and east, he stated. What was slightly different
was that the sub-committee was part and parcel of the
peace talks, and not some quasi-independent body, which
was what the "JTF" was being made out to be by some
critics. The sub-committee would report to the Sri
Lankan prime minister and the LTTE, but would not
require parliamentary oversight.



9. (C) The Ambassador noted that the U.S. had not yet
made up its mind about the new sub-committee. Because
of the LTTE's involvement, we reserved judgment at this
time, he noted. Westborg replied that he understood
that, but wanted to stress that the sub-committee would
be focused on "helping the people of the north and
east." If it was backed by donors and was successful,
the sub-committee could reinforce the ceasefire and help
the peace process gain traction. In addition, via its
participation in the sub-committee, the LTTE would be
obliged to respect human rights norms, and be otherwise
accountable to the populace in the north and east. The
Ambassador replied that he appreciated that explanation,
but the U.S. would have to study the issue further.



--------------------------


Muslim/LTTE Ties


--------------------------





10. (C) Questioned about LTTE-Muslim relations,
Westborg said he hoped that the situation would improve
due to the talks. The LTTE and Rauf Hakeem, a senior
minister and the Muslim representative on the GSL team,
had agreed to consult closely and to energize local
"peace committees" focused on ironing out problems. The
LTTE had made the right noises about wanting to work
with the Muslim community. That said, Westborg
continued, it was still unclear whether Hakeem really
had control of Muslim opinion or whether he remained in
danger of being sidelined by radicals within his own
party. It was important that Hakeem rise to the
occasion and begin to articulate his views better to
Muslims in the east. There was a lot of distrust toward
Hakeem, however, with many in the east seeing him as an
outsider. (Note: Hakeem is not from the east -- see
below.) In an effort to assist Hakeem, Westborg said he
planned to brief eastern Muslims on the results of the
talks soon.



11. (C) (((Note: In a brief story highlighting
Hakeem's apparent lack of understanding of the east,
Westborg related the following: Karuna, the LTTE
military commander in the east, had mentioned at the
talks the group's intent to return to Muslims their
farmland in the east. Hakeem had not picked up on the
importance of this pledge, however, and had to have it
pointed out to him. Westborg explained that to Hakeem
the issue of Muslims and land did not click, as he was
from Kandy and Colombo where Muslims were mostly
involved in trade and the professions. In the east,
however, a good percentage of Muslims owned farmland,
but Hakeem did not seem to realize this. End Note.)))



--------------------------


LTTE Dynamics


--------------------------





12. (C) Queried about the dynamics of the LTTE
delegation at the talks, Westborg said it was clear that
S.P. Thamilchelvam, the chief of the LTTE's political
wing, was an important player. Thamilchelvam was
clearly very close to Prabhakaran and felt comfortable
taking decisions on some issues. That was not the case
with Balasingham, the ostensible leader of the
delegation, who felt compelled to refer all issues, even
small ones, back to the Wanni (the LTTE-controlled area
in northern Sri Lanka). As for Karuna, Westborg said he
was clearly important in the east, but he was not a key
LTTE player on overall political strategy.



13. (C) With respect to Prabhakaran, Westborg said he
was not sure what made him tick, but the LTTE seemed to
be edging closer than ever to supporting autonomy within
Sri Lanka and not separatism. In agreeing to move along
the peace track, Prabhakaran seemingly was reacting to
pressure from his supporters, both those at home and
abroad. Politics was complicated in the Wanni and
Westerners made a mistake in thinking that Prabhakaran
was all-powerful simply because of his brutal record.
He was more like an "Oriental potentate," who was
obliged to work in sophisticated, cunning fashion to
gain support from often competing groups. Asked what
Prabhakaran might do in case peace was achieved,
Westborg replied that he would probably "go into
reserve," i.e., he would not be the public face of the
Tigers. Instead, he might pull the strings from behind
the scene as Mao did for much of his rule in China.



--------------------------


COMMENT


--------------------------





14. (C) Unlike some of the effusive press coverage,
Westborg's review was sober and we thought it hit the
mark. The talks have made solid progress, but there
have only been two full plenaries. There is still
plenty of room for disagreement between the two sides on
a slew of make-or-break issues. We expect that much of
the give-and-take will now be channeled into the various
sub-committees. That, however, would be a real
accomplishment in and of itself because the Norwegians
have clearly convinced both sides to buy into a process.
Westborg noted that the process has not yet suffered any
major reverses. With the peace process taking on a life
of its own, however, serious bumps in the road just may
be controllable as disagreements are channeled into the
sub-committees or elsewhere. All of this argues for the
likely viability of the peace process into the near-
term. Nonetheless, even Westborg -- who has as much
experience as any outsider in dealing with the LTTE --
still cannot say for sure what the group's long-term
intentions are. END COMMENT.



15. (U) Minimize considered.

WILLS