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03COLOMBO2196 2003-12-30 11:16:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Colombo
Cable title:  

Taking advantage of cohabitation crisis,

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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 002196 




E.O. 12958: DECL: 12-30-13
SUBJECT: Taking advantage of cohabitation crisis,
Tamil Tigers launch public relations effort

Refs: Colombo 2191, and previous

(U) Classified by Ambassador Jeffrey J. Lunstead.
Reasons 1.5 (b,d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: The Tamil Tigers have launched a
public relations effort meant to burnish their image in
comparison with the ongoing cohabitation imbroglio in
Colombo. The effort has included repeated (and
accurate) pronouncements that the Tigers are ready to
recommence talks, but cannot do so due to the situation
in the south. The Tigers have also trumpeted their
support for practical steps to further the peace
process. Even while the Tigers quietly continue to
increase their influence in the north/east and bully
percieved opponents, their public relations effort has
been very effective in making the group appear
statesmanlike and the model of restraint. END SUMMARY.


Tigers Underscore Support for Talks


2. (C) In the past several weeks, the Liberation Tigers
of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organization has launched a public
relations effort meant to burnish its image in
comparison with the ongoing cohabitation imbroglio in
Colombo. The LTTE effort has included repeated (and
accurate) pronouncements that the group is ready to
recommence talks, but cannot do so due to the confused
situation in the south. The pro-LTTE web-site
"TamilNet," for example, reported on December 20 that
S.P. Thamilchelvam, the group's Political Wing Chief,
had reiterated the group's interest in talks, stating:
"We are ready to negotiate with anyone who comes to
power in Sri Lanka as long as he or she is a person
ready to work towards an agreement on the political
aspirations and expectations of the people..." The
Tigers reportedly made similar points during a meeting
with Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarians in
early December. In a recent meeting with Japanese
diplomats in the LTTE-controlled Vanni region, Tiger
representatives underlined the same message.

3. (C) (Note: The Tiger public relations effort also
included a recent effort to reach out to India, a
longstanding international opponent of the group. In an
early December speech, Anton Balasingham, the LTTE's
London-based spokesman, urged India "to adopt a new
creative approach and initiate friendly relations with
our organization." End Note.)


Willingness to take Practical Steps


4. (SBU) While underscoring their interest in talks,
the Tigers have also trumpeted their support for
practical steps to further the peace process, including:

-- During the recent Christmas period, the Tigers kept
entry points into the Vanni region open for extended
hours "for the convenience of the people during the
festive season," as TamilNet put it. (This LTTE move
contrasted significantly with the situation in Colombo
where the funeral ceremony for an extremist Buddhist
monk on Christmas Eve sparked concerns that Christians
might be targeted for attack -- see Reftels.) The
Tigers also promised to keep entry points open for
longer hours during the New Year's period.

-- After years of closure (due to LTTE attacks), the
Tigers also cooperated in the late December reconnection
of Batticaloa town in the east with Sri Lanka's railroad

-- The LTTE also recently announced that it planned to
exempt numerous items, such as books, animal feed,
candles, boats, etc., from "taxation" beginning January
1, 2004. "Taxation" rates on numerous other items would
also be reduced beginning on the same date.


Group Quietly Continues Old Ways


5. (C) Even as the Tigers try to appear as moderate as
possible, the group is not remaining static in terms of
its aggressive on-the-ground behavior. As it has since
the peace process commenced in December 2001, the LTTE
quietly continues to increase its influence in the
north/east, and bully any and all perceived opponents.
In the north/east, for example, the group continues to
avidly recruit Tamils for its military and civilian
apparatuses. As reported in Reftels, this effort quite
clearly involves a large dose of forcible recruitment of
children. In Jaffna District, the group also regularly
instigates marches and other activities meant to
browbeat and marginalize the Sri Lankan military. It is
also extending its network of Jaffna "political"

6. (C) In the meantime, in the ethnically-mixed Eastern
Province, the Tigers continue to pressure the Muslim
community via petty harassment and "taxation." (It is
not clear what impact, if any, the announcement
mentioned above regarding "taxation" may have on the
LTTE's routine pattern of extorting funds from Muslims.)
The LTTE has also shown itself more than willing to use
violence against Muslims (eight Muslims were killed in
what appears to have been LTTE-instigated violence in
Trincomalee District in late November/early December,
for example). At the same time, although its use of
targeted assassinations of perceived opponents is down
from the very high levels reached earlier this year, the
Tigers are clearly still in the business of threatening
perceived Tamil opponents. As reported in Reftels, for
example, the group clearly wants to clip the wings of
senior Tamil MP V. Anandasangaree and there are credible
reports that the group might try to kill him if the
opportunity presented itself.




7. (C) Since the cohabitation crisis erupted in Colombo
in early November, almost everyone agrees that the LTTE
has handled the situation in a very astute manner.
Despite the fact that President Kumaratunga -- their
longtime foe -- has taken the initiative in the south,
the Tigers have generally kept their cool and tried to
appear moderate. (The one major exception to this trend
was LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran's so-called "heroes' day"
address in late November which contained some very
provocative language about the south.) In doing so,
they have done their level best not to provide a foil
that would serve to strengthen anti-peace process
elements in the south. At the same time, the group
looks increasingly statesmanlike in the eyes of some
international and local observers -- there is no doubt,
for example, that a common perception is that the group
would like to recommence talks with the GSL and is being
prevented from doing do by the cohabitation impasse.

8. (C) Overall, the LTTE's recent pattern of behavior
may well indicate some maturing of the organization.
That said, as demonstrated by its continued efforts to
increase its influence in the north/east and employment
of strongarm tactics, the group has clearly not changed
its stripes to a marked extent. Thanks to the confusion
in the south and its own public relations effort,
however, the LTTE has managed to improve its image of
late, which is perhaps more a commentary on the sad
state of Colombo politics than the LTTE itself. END

9. (U) Minimize considered.