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03COLOMBO450 2003-03-17 11:28:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Colombo
Cable title:  

LTTE to participate in sixth round of talks in

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1. (C) SUMMARY: After much back-and-forth, the Tigers
have decided to attend the sixth round of talks slated
to take place in Japan, March 18-21. In agreeing to
attend, the Tigers have made clear they will complain
about the recent sinking of one of their ships by the
navy. The Norwegian facilitators have called for the
ceasefire accord to be modified so as to prevent a
repetition of such incidents. The talks appear bound to
be contentious. END SUMMARY.

LTTE will attend talks

2. (SBU) The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
have decided to participate in the sixth round of talks
with the GSL slated to be held March 18-21 in Hakone,
Japan. The Tigers' decision comes after much back-and-
forth in the past week, as the group vociferously
complained about the March 10 sinking of one of their
supply ships by the Sri Lankan navy (see Ref B).
Indeed, at times, the LTTE strongly hinted it would not
attend the talks due to the March 10 incident. Concerns
on this score were heightened when LTTE leader V.
Prabhakaran refused to meet Norwegian Deputy Foreign
Minister Vidar Helgesen during the latter's visit to the
LTTE-controlled Wanni region last week. While LTTE
chief negotiator Anton Balasingham and political chief
S.P. Thamilchelvam did meet Helgesen, Prabhakaran was
said to be in a high-level meeting examining next steps
for the peace process in light of the March 10 incident.
In the end, the Tigers decided to participate, signaling
their final decision to the GSL over the March 15-16

3. (U) On March 17, with the talks set, the Sri Lankan
government's Peace Secretariat confirmed the following
makeup of the GSL and LTTE delegations:

-- G.L. Peiris, Minister of Constitutional Affairs
-- Milinda Moragoda, Minister of Economic Reform
-- Rauf Hakeem, Minister of Ports and Shipping
-- Defense Secretary Austin Fernando.
-- Ambassador Bernard Goonetilleke, head of the peace


-- Anton Balasingham, chief LTTE spokesman and chief
-- Adele Balasingham, delegation's secretary and wife of
Anton Balasingham
-- S.P. Thamilchelvam, political chief
-- Karuna, eastern region commander
-- Kumaran Pulithevan, head of the LTTE's Peace

-- Suthakaran, LTTE media unit
-- J. Maheswaran, Tamil Rehabilitation Organization

(((Note: Both delegations are basically unchanged from
those that attended previous rounds. Re the GSL team,
Hakeem had argued that he should be allowed to lead a
separate Muslim group to the talks, but was overruled by
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.)))

Tigers to raise Ship Incident

4. (SBU) In agreeing to attend the talks, the LTTE made
clear it would use them to complain about the March 10
ship incident. In a March 15 posting on TamilNet, a
pro-LTTE website, for example, Balasingham was quoted as
stating: "Our leadership felt that expressing direct
condemnation of the Sri Lankan navy for sinking our
merchant vessel in most severe terms at the talks to the
government, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), and
the international community would be more appropriate at
this juncture (than boycotting the talks)." (Note: The
Tigers continue to stir up trouble on-the-ground over
the March 10 incident. As has been their practice in
the last several days, the Tigers are sponsoring general
strikes in areas of the north and east protesting the
incident. The latest strike took place in Batticaloa
and Ampara districts in the east today. Many stores and
offices were forced to close and transport stopped in
these areas.)

Norwegians want to review Ceasefire Accord

5. (C) Per Ref A, in acknowledging the difficulties
arising from the March 10 incident and previous
confrontations at sea, the Norwegian facilitators have
signaled that the February 2002 ceasefire agreement
could usefully be reviewed. In March 14 public remarks,
for example, DFM Helgesen made clear that the two sides
should work out modalities on how to deal with each
other at sea, so that there is no more violence.
Helgesen also indicated that the issue of each sides'
detaining of the other's troops needs review. (Note:
The LTTE, in particular, has on several occasions
"arrested" GSL soldiers and police, effectively holding
them captive for weeks at a time.)

6. (SBU) (((Note: FYI. The Norwegian-run SLMM has
released its report on the March 10 incident. In the
report, the SLMM ruled that it could not make a final
determination about the incident due to a lack of
information, caused by neither sides' contacting it
regarding the incident until it was too late. In
comments that jibe with those of Helgesen's above, the
report went on to stress that the SLMM was willing to
work out modalities between the LTTE and GSL in order to
avert future clashes.)))

7. (SBU) In addition to security-related issues, the
sixth round is also slated to focus on the delivery of
development assistance, resettlement issues, and human


8. (C) While it is positive that the Tigers are on board
for the talks (it would have been a serious setback for
peace if they had boycotted), the Hakone round seems
bound to be contentious. The Tigers are clearly
planning to use the talks as a soapbox to criticize the
government over the March 10 incident. That said, if
the Norwegians can successfully focus the talks on ways
to improve the ceasefire accord, the negotiations could
prove constructive. In particular, as Helgesen has
noted, the two sides clearly need to address the issue
of how to handle LTTE resupply efforts. Continued
military engagements at sea over the issue are roiling
the peace process. If the process is to gain back its
momentum, modalities of some sort need to be worked out
in this area. Whether the two sides have the patience
or even inclination to do this in the current sour
atmosphere appears a tough sell and is a test of the
process' long-term viability. END COMMENT.

9. (U) Minimize considered.