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07COLOMBO316 2007-02-22 11:57:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Colombo
Cable title:  

SRI LANKA: 5-YEAR CEASEFIRE ANNIVERSARY INSPIRES

Tags:   PGOV PREL PTER PHUM MOPS CE 
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1. (SBU) SUMMARY: February 22 marks the five-year
anniversary of the Cease-fire Agreement (CFA), which has
inspired renewed calls to abandon the peace process. A
group of Buddhist monks from the National Bhikku Front,
officially backed by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP),
mounted a hunger strike on February 20 in Colombo to demand
the abrogation of the CFA. Nearly 500 Buddhist monks turned
out on February 22 to support the hunger strike. The JVP and
another Sinhalese nationalist group are expected to join them
for a rally later in the day. On February 18, Environment
Minister Champika Ranawaka, recently sworn in after the
Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) joined the Government last month,
publicly advocated the use of extrajudicial means against
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) sympathizers. On the
positive side, prominent Sri Lankan NGO National Peace
Council organized a symposium "Two Decades of War, Five Years
of CFA, What Next?" where a broad spectrum of speakers,
including the Ambassador, spoke in favor of peace, and their
remarks received wide press coverage. End Summary.



2. (SBU) February 22 marks the five year anniversary of the
Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), which has inspired renewed calls
from some quarters to abandon the peace process. The JHU and
JVP, Sri Lanka's main Sinhalese chauvinist political parties,
are both agitating for an end to the peace process and the
CFA. These groups have long held the position that war is the
only solution to the ethnic conflict. Recent actions by
these parties and their leaders suggest a growing impatience
with the peace process.



3. (SBU) A group of Buddhist monks from the National Bhikku
Front, officially backed by the JVP, mounted a hunger strike
on February 20 in a Colombo city park to demand the
abrogation of the CFA. JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe and
JVP parliamentary floor leader Wimal Weerawansa visited the
site on February 20 and offered their support for the
demonstration. One protesting monk this week called United
National Party (UNP) leader Ranil Wickremesinghe a traitor
for signing the CFA and said that the President would also be
branded a traitor if he fails to abrogate it by February 22.
Nearly 500 Buddhist monks turned out the morning of February
22 to support the hunger strike. The JVP and the National
Movement Against Terrorism, another Sinhalese nationalist
group, also plan to join the monks for a rally later today.
Venerable Dhambara Amila Thero, President of the National
Bhikku Front, offered meditation at the Temple of the Tooth
in Kandy to bring about the abrogation of the CFA, which he
claims has divided Sri Lanka and opened the door for foreign
intervention.



4. (SBU) On February 18, Environment Minister Champika
Ranawaka, recently sworn in after the JHU officially joined
the Government last month, told a local newspaper that if
LTTE sympathizers cannot be suppressed within the law "we
need to use any other ways and means." Local observers
perceive this as a call for the illegal use of force against
Tamils, not just the LTTE. Several media groups have
protested his statement as an irresponsible position for a
sitting Cabinet Minister to take.



5. (SBU) On the positive side, the National Peace Council,
a prominent Sri Lankan NGO, organized a symposium "Two
Decades of War, Five Years of CFA, What Next?" The NPC
invited the full spectrum of religious leaders, leading civil
society representatives, some politicians, and the
Ambassadors or High Commissioners of the U.S., Norway, Japan,
Canada and Australia. All speakers spoke eloquently in favor
of peace, and their remarks received wide press coverage.
Ambassador focused his remarks on the important opportunity
Sri Lanka now has to achieve peace given the strong
parliamentary majority the President now has, and the good

COLOMBO 00000316 002 OF 002


prospect that the opposition UNP will support a serious
devolution package that would thereby give the President more
than enough votes to amend the Constitution (full text on
Embassy Web site).



6. (SBU) COMMENT: Both the JVP and JHU have consistently
called for the abrogation of the CFA. The JHU, since joining
the Government, has been somewhat less vocal. However, the
JVP, no longer allied with the Rajapaksa administration, now
has fewer restraints on voicing its complaints against the
Government and the CFA. The President is sensitive to
pressure from these parties since they share his home
constituency and support base in the conservative South.
However, the President appears confident that he can
neutralize the challenge from the JVP by holding out the
prospect of a snap parliamentary election, in which his own
SLFP would expect to gain seats at the expense of the JVP.
BLAKE