|03COLOMBO1845||2003-10-23 14:07:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Colombo|
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
1. (C) SUMMARY: President Kumaratunga has requested
that Norway remove the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission
(SLMM) chief. In making this demand, the president
complained that the SLMM had lost "objectivity." While
the GoN reviews next steps, the SLMM is continuing its
operations. The GSL is balking at removing the SLMM
chief and we are not sure how far Kumaratunga wants to
push the matter. END SUMMARY.
2. (SBU) PRESIDENT LASHES OUT: President Kumaratunga
has requested that Norway remove Sri Lanka Monitoring
Mission (SLMM) chief Tryggve Teleffsen. The president
made this demand in a letter that was sent to the
Norwegian government. The full text of the letter was
not made public, but some of its contents have been
leaked to the press. In making her demand, the
president was cited as having "serious doubts" about
Teleffsen's and his organization's impartiality and
objectivity. The president went on to assert that the
continuation of the ceasefire "within acceptable levels
of national security requires effective, objective and
impartial monitoring of the truce," but that Teleffsen's
conduct, when compared to his predecessor, had been
"quite unsatisfactory." Teleffsen, a retired Norwegian
major general, took over as chief monitor in March,
replacing Trond Furuhovde, another former Norwegian
3. (C) In her letter, the president also specifically
complained that the SLMM had recently acted to prevent
the navy from intercepting a reported Tiger arms
resupply ship operating off the northeast coast (see
Ref C). The president directly accused the SLMM of
either deliberately trying to tip off the Tigers via a
phone call so that their boat could escape, or acting in
a highly negligent manner. Per Ref C, Mission was told
by the Defense Minister that the SLMM's actions in this
matter were inadvertent (see more below).
4. (C) GSL/NORWEGIAN RESPONSE: The Sri Lankan
government is balking at supporting the president's
demand. Locked in a tense cohabitation situation with
the president and her party, unnamed members of the
United National Party (UNP) governing coalition have
been quoted in the press as warning the president that
her efforts to remove Tellefsen are putting the peace
process at risk.
5. (C) Mission's understanding is that the Norwegian
government is reviewing next steps, and has not yet
responded to the president's letter. Charge' called
Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar early October 24.
Brattskar would not comment on the phone, but invited
Charge over to discuss the matter later in the day.
Timo Ekdahl, the SLMM's acting spokesperson and chief of
operations, told polchief that the SLMM was waiting for
the Norwegian government to decide what to do in
response to the president's demand. As far as the SLMM
was concerned, he added, it was "business as usual,"
however, with no changes in personnel for the group or
adjustment in its operations at this time.
6. (C) CONVERSATION WITH TELLEFSEN: At a recent
function, the Ambassador briefly spoke to Tellefsen
about the October 16 incident off the northeast coast.
(The conversation took place before the demand for his
ouster). Confirming what we were told by the Defense
Minister (see Ref C), Tellefsen admitted that his office
had made a mistake by contacting the Tigers and asking
them about the report that one of their ships was
operating off the northeast coast. There was no
intention to tip off the Tigers, he underscored. That
said, Tellefsen said the matter had been badly handled
and that the SLMM duty officer had failed to brief him
on the matter in time.
7. (C) COMMENT: We are not sure how far President
Kumaratunga wants to push this matter. She has a
propensity for making huge issues of matters and then
dropping them. Given her track record, it is very
possible that she is simply trying to score points with
her political base, which is significantly more
skeptical toward the peace process than the general
public (and happens to be gathering today in Colombo for
a big rally). If the president presses this matter, it
will become a real cohabitation donnybrook, however,
with the president pitted against the prime minister
over which of them has power over foreign policy. The
president legally does, but the prime minister has
effective day-to-day control and would be loath to give
into her on this issue. At the same time, disruptions
in the SLMM's operations would be highly problematic for
the ceasefire and the larger peace process, especially
in light of the likely delivery of the LTTE
counterproposals in a week or so. There is no doubt
that it would be best for all concerned if the president
backs down and soon. END COMMENT.
8. (U) Minimize considered.