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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
05COLOMBO888
2005-05-13 11:21:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Colombo
Cable title:  

SRI LANKA: PROPOSED JOINT MECHANISM NOW POLITICAL

Tags:   PGOV  PTER  EAID  CE  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 000888 

SIPDIS

STATE FOR SA/INS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/12/2015
TAGS: PGOV PTER EAID CE LTTE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: PROPOSED JOINT MECHANISM NOW POLITICAL
HOT POTATO

REF: COLOMBO 0834

Classified By: DCM JAMES F. ENTWISTLE. REASON: 1.4 (B,D).

-------
SUMMARY
--------



1. (C) Hopes that the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) and the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) would sign a joint
mechanism on tsunami aid before the May 16-17 Development
Forum are fading. The proposal has become a political hot
potato for President Chandrika Kumaratunga, with her
opponents--including her Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)
coalition partners--using it to attack her and the LTTE
pointing to her delay in signing the agreement as proof of
her insincerity. The President's failure to vet the proposal
adequately with other parties and influential players,
including India, may be partially responsible for her current
dilemma. Although some critics believe that the President
never intended to sign the agreement--and can now
conveniently blame the JVP and others for scuttling it--she
has told donors she plans to keep trying--and only needs a
few weeks more to bring the JVP on board. Whatever her true
intentions, the ugly, very public battle over the mechanism
highlights ever more glaringly the difficulty of securing a
southern political consensus on this important issue. End
summary.



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


MECHANISM MOOTED;
NO TAKERS


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





2. (SBU) Although informal discussion of a possible "joint
mechanism" between the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) and the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on tsunami aid has
been kicking around Colombo for several months, President
Chandrika Kumaratunga waited until the end of April to begin
publicly promoting the proposal. She chose her inaugural
remarks at a development project in Colombo District on April
29 to first broach the controversial topic, telling the crowd
that she was sure her Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)
coalition partners would not oppose the agreement. The
President followed up this initial salvo with an appeal for
the support of religious leaders, telling religious committee
members of the National Advisory Council for Peace and
Reconciliation on May 3 that she would press for the joint
mechanism even if her government falls and she loses the
presidency (Reftel). Stressing that the LTTE had climbed
down from an initial demand for a separate state to "a much
more democratic mechanism to distribute tsunami relief," she
asserted that at least 60 percent of the nation--including
all of her own Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and most of the
opposition United National Party (UNP)--support the proposal.




3. (C) According to one Embassy source, the President then
asked the religious leaders present at the meeting to sign a
statement endorsing the proposal. The participants demurred,

asking first to see a copy of the draft agreement. The
President reportedly told the clerics that she was unable to
comply with their request, and the meeting ended
inconclusively. The President met May 4 with bipartisan
members of the Muslim Peace Secretariat, who, according to
Secretary General Javid Yusuf, pressed for greater Muslim

SIPDIS
representation at the regional level. (Note: According to
several interlocutors, the joint mechanism will operate at
three levels: national, regional and district. The LTTE,
GSL and Muslims will have one representative each at the
national level; five, two and three respectively at the
regional level; and only GSL representatives at the district
level. End note.) Since the meeting, Sri Lanka Muslim
Congress (SLMC) Leader Rauff Hakeem has made repeated public
statements against the mechanism, complaining that the Muslim
community was not adequately consulted during the drafting
stage. The President also waited until May 4 to brief her
increasingly out-of-the-loop Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse
and the Cabinet on the draft--but once again did not,
apparently, give anyone in the Cabinet a copy of the
document. According to one source in the Cabinet, two
Ministers representing small parties in the alliance--Urban
Development Minister Dinesh Gunawardena of the Mahajana
Eksath Peramuna and Housing Minister Ferial Ashraff of the
New Unity Alliance, a Muslim representing the eastern
district of Ampara--objected to the proposal. (Note: JVP
ministers had already walked out of the Cabinet meeting in
protest over a separate matter--the proposed restructuring of
the Ceylon Electricity Board--and thus did not participate in
that briefing. End note.)



4. (SBU) On May 6 the President brought the proposal before
her JVP partners, who promptly and very publicly shot it
down. Local press reports quoted JVP MP Wimal Weerawansa as
saying signing the mechanism was tantamount to recognizing
the LTTE's claim for a separate state. At a May 10 rally to
protest the mechanism, JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe
blamed the international community for pressuring the GSL to
sign the agreement, lauding the example of Cuban President
Castro, who "stands upright in the face of opposition and
pressure from America." He asserted that India was also
opposed to the mechanism and the potential threat it could
pose to regional security. (Note: Another protest by the
JVP-backed National Bhikku (monk) Front, is planned to be
held in Colombo on May 15 in opposition both to the joint
mechanism and the May 16-17 Development Forum in Kandy. When
asked why the bhikkus did not elect to hold their protest in
Kandy, a representative told us that the Buddhist leadership
in Kandy forbade it. End note.) The President suffered a
second rebuff on May 6 as the UNP flatly turned down her
invitation to Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to meet
to discuss the draft agreement. In a letter released to the
press, the UNP put the onus for pursuing the mechanism
squarely on the President, indicating the party's support
"once the government reaches a final agreement with the
LTTE." When DCM told Bradman Weerakoon, a long-time UNP
advisor that he believed the party had erred in not agreeing
even to hear the President out, Weerakoon lamely responded
that the President's invitation had been turned because it
had not been sent through proper channels.



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


TAMPING DOWN DONOR EXPECTATIONS


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





5. (C) While meeting near-universal opposition on the
domestic political front (from foes and purported allies
alike), the President has also begun to brief members of the
diplomatic community, in separate tranches, on the
initiative. (Note: The DCM--who was Charge at the time--was
initially invited to meet the President on May 10. The
appointment was subsequently shifted to May 11 and then to
May 13. As of COB May 13, the meeting had not taken place.
End note.) According to a read-out from participants at the
first such briefing on May 10 (which included the EU,
Australia and Canada), the President said that she needed a
few more weeks--i.e., well after the May 16-17 Development
Forum in Kandy--to bring the JVP on board. Some participants
believe that once the impending Forum is safely behind her,
the pressure will be off the President to sign--and her
two-week full-court press on the mechanism will fade away.



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


INDIAN VIEWS


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





6. (C) Many political analysts, perhaps picking up on the
JVP's allusion to Indian objections, believe that the
President did not properly vet the proposed mechanism with
her Indian neighbors, who, resentful at not having been
adequately consulted, are thus trying to scuttle it. (The
Indians had been part of a SAARC Missions-only briefing on
the topic with the President earlier in the week.) The
President's still-unconfirmed plans to visit India this
weekend are an attempt to smooth things out, several Sri
Lankan contacts have suggested. Indian DCM Mohan Kumar
dismissed such speculation in a May 12 conversation with DCM,
however. The Indians will not try to stand in the way of an
agreement or "scuttle" it ("as if we could") if all Sri
Lankan parties agree to it, he asserted. That said, Kumar
cited two Indian concerns about the mechanism. First,
allocating the only slots reserved for Tamils at the national
and regional level to the LTTE reinforces the Tigers' claim
to be the sole representative of the Tamil people. Second,
New Delhi is "shocked" that the mechanism would apply in
government-controlled areas in the north and east as
well--thereby giving the LTTE some degree of legitimacy in
GSL-controlled areas. Instead, the Indian government
believes the mechanism should have been drafted to apply
exclusively to LTTE-controlled areas--a point, he said, his
senior GSL interlocutors concede but view as too late to
change.



7. (C) According to Kumar, in her meeting with SAARC
envoys, the President said she was "strongly inclined" to go
ahead with the mechanism--a significantly toned-down message
from her May 3 speech before the religious leaders--and did
not mention the two-to-three week delay cited in her meeting
with other Chiefs of Mission. Kumar said he believes the
President will ultimately sign the mechanism to earn some
points from the international community for political
courage. New Delhi's concern, however, is that after signing
the mechanism nothing will be done to implement it, he
concluded.



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


COLOMBO CHATTERING CLASS GENERALLY SKEPTICAL


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





8. (C) A survey of contacts in the NGO community, academia,
media and the opposition political arena reveals widespread
skepticism that the mechanism will ever be signed. One
cynical (but widely cited) assessment holds that the
President never actually intended to sign it. According to
this theory, President Kumaratunga went along with pursuing
the agreement to curry international favor and to appear
willing to risk political capital in the interests of
peace/humanitarian aid--while knowing all along she could
count on JVP opposition to keep the proposal from going too
far. (An interesting variation on this theme sees the LTTE
adopting more or less the same tactic--claiming support for
the mechanism while relying on divisive Southern politics to
prevent its adoption. The LTTE would thus be left free to
reiterate its oft-repeated claim that the South is not
serious about the peace process.) A significantly smaller
group believes she genuinely supports the mechanism but will
end up unable to overcome JVP opposition and thus not sign.
Others, like the Indians, predict she will sign the agreement
(perhaps accommodating JVP objections to the restructuring of
the Ceylon Electricity Board in exchange for an assurance
that the partner will not bolt from the government should she
go through with the mechanism) but then fall down (whether
because of JVP obstructionism or her own inattention) on
implementation. In general, the bottom line among most
non-GSL Sri Lankans we have talked to--even those who are
convinced of her sincerity--is strong doubt that the document
will ever be signed.



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


LTTE ALREADY FIXING BLAME


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





9. (SBU) If our contacts' prediction proves true and the
President, for whatever reason, does not sign, the LTTE can
be expected to try to capitalize on the situation. The May
12 edition of Sudar Oli, a pro-LTTE Tamil vernacular daily,
carried an interview with Tiger political wing leader
Thamilchelvan, who accused the GSL of "dragging this matter
out while at the same time allowing opposing forces to get
strengthened." While the Norwegian facilitators remain
optimistic of securing an agreement, Thamilchelvan said, "the
actions of the Sri Lankan government and the crisis among the
alliance partners make us doubtful. Mrs. Kumaratunga is just
issuing statements without doing anything constructive . . .
as a strategy to convince the donors (so that she can)
receive the aid." The GSL had squandered the opportunity
presented by the tsunami to rebuild confidence by working
with the LTTE, he charged, and the President had strengthened
the JVP by making them partners in her government. Instead
of working to find a permanent solution to the ethnic
conflict, she had stopped humanitarian aid from reaching
tsunami-affected people in LTTE-controlled areas, he alleged.

SIPDIS




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


COMMENT


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





10. (C) That the President waited so late in the day before
seeking support for the proposed joint mechanism does not
necessarily mean she is not sincere in wanting its passage;
her well-known penchant for lateness is so pervasive that it
influences her approach to many matters--even those important
to her. That said, she is no political neophyte, and is too
savvy a strategist to be surprised by the JVP's, the Muslims'
and the UNP's response. The UNP, in particular, is unlikely
to play any role in saving the President from her
uncooperative alliance partner, and she knows it. Thus her
claims, carried prominently in the local press, of "surprise
and regret" at the UNP's lack of support seem a bit
disingenuous.



11. (C) Comment (cont.): We believe that the President is
sincere in principle about wanting some kind of rapprochement
with the Tigers, whether through a joint mechanism or other
vehicle, but may be unwilling to risk the political capital
needed to muster multipartisan support for it. (Since risking
political capital should be easier for a last-term president
than one contemplating re-election, her reluctance to take
such a gamble indicates she may still want to keep her
options open.) Faced with vociferous opposition to the
mechanism on multiple fronts, she may just decide it is
easier to let it go--especially once the Development Forum is
behind her. Whatever she decides, the battle has been ugly
enough and public enough to jeopardize the one benefit that
signing the mechanism could have brought her--increased
confidence from Tamils, LTTE and non-LTTE alike, in her
ability to bring the South together to clinch a lasting
settlement to the conflict.



LUNSTEAD