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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06COLOMBO686 2006-04-26 13:06:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Colombo
Cable title:  

SRI LANKAN MILITARY LAUNCHES "LIMITED" RETALIATORY

Tags:   PTER PGOV PHUM MOPS CE 
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OO RUEHBI
DE RUEHLM #0686/01 1161306
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 261306Z APR 06
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3238
INFO RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 9557
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA PRIORITY 9141
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 4064
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD PRIORITY 6028
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 2969
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO PRIORITY 3054
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 2126
RUEHSM/AMEMBASSY STOCKHOLM PRIORITY 0200
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA PRIORITY 0832
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI PRIORITY 4486
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI PRIORITY 6581
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 1153
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 COLOMBO 000686 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/25/2016
TAGS: PTER PGOV PHUM MOPS CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKAN MILITARY LAUNCHES "LIMITED" RETALIATORY
ATTACKS ON LTTE TARGETS IN EAST; PRESIDENT URGES CALM

REF: COLOMBO 672

Classified By: AMB. JEFFREY J. LUNSTEAD. REASON: 1.4 (B,D).

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



1. (C) Following the attempted assassination of Army
Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka in Colombo on April 25,
Government security forces launched aerial and artillery
strikes on Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) territory
in the eastern district of Trincomalee late April 25 and the
morning of April 26. The roads from Vavuniya to Jaffna in
the north and from Batticaloa to Trincomalee have been
temporarily closed. USAID has temporarily closed its office
in Trincomalee. In a televised address to the nation late
April 25, President Mahinda Rajapaksa reaffirmed the
Government's commitment to peace and appealed to the public
not to resort to communal violence. In an April 26 briefing
to the diplomatic community, Foreign Minister Mangala
Samaraweera assured his audience that retaliatory operations
were limited and that efforts would be made soon to get
humanitarian relief to affected populations. Norwegian
Special Envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer told the co-chairs on April
26 that the question of transportation of LTTE commanders
from the east to the north was still under active
consideration; if the matter is resolved, a May Geneva
meeting remains possible. We find it hard to believe,
however, that the LTTE is seriously contemplating talks now
(if it ever was). End summary.



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


AFTER ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT,
AERIAL AND ARTILLERY ATTACKS


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





2. (SBU) Following the attempted assassination of Army
Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka in Colombo on April 25
(Reftel), that evening the Sri Lanka Air Force launched
aerial attacks on targets in Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
(LTTE) territory near Mutur and Sampur in the eastern
district of Trincomalee. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission
(SLMM) also confirmed reports of artillery fire from
Government positions in Trincomalee Bay aimed toward LTTE
positions south of Sampur. According to SLMM, the attacks
continued until about 0100 April 26 and resumed again from
0630 to about 0800. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission was
unable to confirm local NGO reports of at least 12 civilians
killed in the attacks and had no word on possible Tiger
casualties. Military sources confirmed to us local press
reports (including from the pro-LTTE website TamilNet) that
some artillery (presumably in a misfire) hit a Muslim village
in Mutur, killing three civilians. SLMM also noted reports
of gunfire and explosions near Vavunithivu in the eastern
district of Batticaloa late on April 25; military sources
said the LTTE had fired on Sri Lanka Army (SLA) positions in
the vicinity. SLMM head Brig. Ulf Henricsson was scheduled
to arrive in Trincomalee later on April 26.



3. (SBU) The A9 highway linking the northern districts of
Vavuniya and Jaffna has been temporarily closed, as has the
main road between the eastern districts of Batticaloa and
Trincomalee. Fredrik Palsson, the Chief of party for RONCO,
the Department's humanitarian demining contractor, told
poloff the night of April 25 that all of his expatriate staff
had been moved from Jaffna and Vavuniya to either
Anuradhapura, Colombo or the humanitarian demining training
site in Ratnapura. USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives
(OTI) has temporarily closed its office in Trincomalee, and
the one expatriate staff member there was scheduled to return
to Colombo on April 26. Fonseka remained in serious but
stable condition after undergoing surgery on injuries to his
liver and lungs, according to hospital sources and Dr.
Palitha Kohona of the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) Peace

COLOMBO 00000686 002 OF 004


Secretariat.

SIPDIS




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


PRESIDENT REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO PEACE;
APPEALS FOR CALM


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





4. (U) In a previously scheduled televised address to the
nation the evening of April 25, President Mahinda Rajapaksa
reiterated his desire to "find a sustainable solution" to the
conflict and "the achievement of an honorable peace." He
recapitulated his efforts to build a consensus for such a
solution among the major parliamentary parties, describing
their mutual agreement to accept a negotiated settlement as
"a major achievement in our recent history." The "patience"
shown by the Government in the face of repeated LTTE attacks
against security forces should not be misinterpreted as
"weakness," he warned, and the LTTE attack on the Army
Commander had demonstrated the Tigers' lack of sincerity.
Expressing concern at recent killings of Tamil civilians,
including Tamil National Alliance (TNA) appointee V.
Vigneswaran in Trincomalee on April 7, he urged people "not
to take the law into their own hands" and engage in communal
violence, noting that ethnic strife plays well into "the
strategy of the LTTE . . .to change international opinion . .
.in their favor. . . . Today's crisis cannot be resolved by
dividing the nation." He reaffirmed his intention to
"develop a state structure under which all Sri Lankans that
live here as citizens, irrespective of whatever community . .
. may participate in governance with no injustice or
discrimination."



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


HOW LIMITED ARE "LIMITED" OPERATIONS?


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





5. (SBU) In an April 26 briefing to the diplomatic
community, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera repeatedly
emphasized the Government's continued commitment to the
ceasefire and its ongoing efforts to accommodate LTTE demands
for transportation as a precondition of resumed dialogue in
Geneva. (With the Minister were Foreign Secretary H.M.G.S.
Palihakkara, Peace Secretariat head Palitha Kohona and Sri
Lanka Army Spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe.) "The LTTE
is reverting to its abhorrent practice of (trying to foment)
communal backlash," the Minister asserted, but the Government
continues to respect the ceasefire and to seek ways to hold a
second round of talks in Geneva. He reported that he had met
Norwegian Special Envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer and Norwegian
Ambassador Hans Brattskar earlier that morning to reiterate
the Government's offer to provide private aircraft to
transport LTTE cadres from the east to the north and to ask
the Norwegians to tell the LTTE leadership that the
Government was waiting for the Tigers to agree to dates for
talks. (Note: In a separate discussion earlier in the day,
the Peace Secretariat's Kohona had told the Ambassador that
an April 25 letter from LTTE political ideologue Tamilselvan
to Hanssen-Bauer, which reiterated the unacceptable demands
that the GSL provide "the air travel procedures that were in
place" under the Wickeremsinghe government or "the sea travel
of our members in our naval vessels with SLMM supervision,"
offered scant hope for agreement soon.) Samaraweera
described the aerial and artillery strikes of late April
25/early April 26 as a "limited operation" undertaken after
Sri Lanka naval vessels came under attack in Trincomalee. He
appealed to the international community to undertake
"tangible and specific" actions against the LTTE and its
front operations abroad to create the "political space"
needed for resuming dialogue.



6. (SBU) UNDP Resident Representative Miguel Bermeo urged
the Government to allow humanitarian agencies access soon to
LTTE-controlled territories so that they could attend to the
needs of victims of conflict in those areas. In addition, he

COLOMBO 00000686 003 OF 004


noted, some agencies want to move staff out of affected
areas. Shanaka Jayasekera of the Peace Secretariat
acknowledged that access to areas undergoing "military
operations" had been cut off; the GSL was working through the
Government Agent's office and the Reconstruction and
Development Agency to provide aid to the conflict-affected as
soon as those operations were concluded. Kohona said that
the Government was willing to look at any measures to
alleviate the suffering of civilians and would assure access
to representatives of humanitarian agencies as soon as their
security could be assured.



7. (C) The Italian Ambassador asked if the "limited
operations" were already over. The Foreign Minister said
yes, but Brig. Samarasinghe contradicted him, stating that
military operations would continue until "the goals were
achieved." Ambassador Lunstead asked if the "limited"
operations were open-ended--to be continued until as-yet
unidentified goals were achieved--or time-bound. Samaraweera
responded by publicly reiterating the Government's commitment
to the peace process, but later told the Ambassador privately
that the President had very clearly instructed the military
the previous evening that the strikes should be limited in
time and scope.



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


CO-CHAIRS HUDDLE


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





8. (C) Ambassador and DCM attended a late afternoon Colombo
co-chair representatives meeting April 26. Norwegian
Ambassador Brattskar confirmed reports that SLMM head Ulf
Henricsson was headed by road to Trincomalee and intended to
cross into LTTE areas south of Trincomalee to assess the
situation. The Tigers welcomed the visit; the GSL had said
they would not allow him to cross into LTTE territory
(apparently Trincomalee-based ICRC personnel have been told
the same thing). Hanssen-Bauer said that LTTE Peace
Secretariat head Pulideevan had told him by phone earlier in

SIPDIS
the day that the LTTE would not respond to GSL military
attacks. Hanssen-Bauer told the co-chairs that in his view
the question of transportation of LTTE commanders from the
east to the north to facilitate an LTTE central committee
meeting was still amazingly alive and it appeared that a
seaplane option might still come together, perhaps next week.
There was enthusiasm on both sides and the Foreign Minister
had told Hanssen-Bauer "my ministry (presumably Ports and
Aviation) will pay for it." If the LTTE travel comes off,
followed by a central committee of five days or so,
Hanssen-Bauer opined, a May Geneva meeting is possible,
although LTTE London-based theoretician Anton Balasingham is
due to have medical treatment in early May, which could delay
things.



9. (C) Hanssen-Bauer noted that in his meeting with the
Foreign Minister and the Foreign Secretary earlier in the
day, he had briefed them on the April 28 Co-chairs meeting in
Oslo. Neither had evinced any concern about it, although the
Foreign Secretary had commented that he hoped the SLMM
"report card" (on how both parties have upheld their
commitments from the first round of Geneva talks) would not
be discussed. Brattskar speculated that this concern is due
to fears that it might be leaked to the media. Hanssen-Bauer
underlined that despite events of the last 24 hours, both the
GSL and the Tigers have told him they remain committed to the
ceasefire agreement and to another round of talks in Geneva.



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


TNA PLEADS FOR BALANCE


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





10. (C) On April 26 the DCM met with Tamil National Alliance
(TNA) MPs Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, Suresh Premachandran and


S. Kajendran. The DCM opened the meeting by expressing
outrage over the LTTE's assassination attempt on Fonseka.

COLOMBO 00000686 004.2 OF 004


Ponnambalam agreed that the overall situation was regrettable
but harped on alleged GSL atrocities leading up to the
suicide bombing. Ponnambalam asserted that when Tamils have
been murdered in GSL-controlled territories since Geneva, the
GSL (and the international community) do not condemn the
attacks and no serious investigation occurs. The MPs did not
support every LTTE action, but the international community
had not given the Tigers credit for the restraint they had
shown after the first round of Geneva talks, he insisted,
while, in his view, the GSL did nothing to meet its Geneva
commitment to control "other armed groups." Ponnambalam and
Premachandran maintained the LTTE might still return to
Geneva if the GSL would "sort out the transportation issue"
by designating a large military helicopter for LTTE use. The
DCM replied that the Tigers had seemed to be looking for any
excuse not to return to Geneva. For the GSL to go the extra
mile now seemed unlikely, he said, adding, "You can't blow up
the Army Commander and then say we want a ride on his
helicopter." The DCM noted that the US is careful to
preserve balance in its public statements and frequently
discusses with the GSL the need to fulfill its commitments.
That said, LTTE actions have inflicted great suffering on the
Tamil people, and the latest suicide attack would be on the
minds of the international community, he said.



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


COMMENT


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





11. (C) Samaraweera emphasized repeatedly during his
briefing that the ceasefire is still holding and that the GSL
is still open for talks with the LTTE. We find it hard to
believe, however, that the LTTE is contemplating talks now
(if it ever was). As of early morning April 26, there were
no further reports of military operations against LTTE
targets. That said, the dynamics of the Foreign Minister's
briefing suggest some divisions between the civilian and
military branches of the government, with the military
pressing for stronger action. While we were encouraged to
hear the President's remarks against communal violence and
vigilante justice, the GSL will have to allow some limited
access to LTTE-controlled areas soon to permit humanitarian
aid in to the conflict-affected or risk aggravating already
strong feelings of alienation and discrimination within the
Tamil community. Colombo remained calm throughout the day,
and shops and government offices were open for business as
usual. We will continue to assess the security situation
closely.
LUNSTEAD