|07COLOMBO609||2007-04-24 11:58:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Colombo|
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 000609
1. (C) SUMMARY: United National Party (UNP) leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe met Ambassador on April 23 to outline the
UNP's latest efforts (ref a) to push the Government of Sri
Lanka (GSL) on human rights and media freedom. On April 22,
the UNP launched a new website, www.unp.lk, which will serve
as a forum for Sri Lankans to post "e-papers" that might not
otherwise be published for fear of government retaliation.
The UNP will also kick off an international lobbying campaign
aimed at bringing worldwide attention to human rights and
press freedom problems in Sri Lanka. Another component of
the campaign will be the release of two reports documenting
the government's alleged abuses. These efforts are the UNP's
most recent attempts to re-energize the party in the wake of
the demoralizing January "crossovers" to the governing
coalition. End Summary.
2. (C) Ambassador met UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe on
April 23 at Wickremesinghe's request. Wickremesinghe
outlined the UNP's latest efforts to push the GSL on human
rights and media freedom. Wickremesinghe joked that the
Ambassador has only a couple of weeks "left in the limelight"
before all attention will turn to the UNP. The overall
objective of this "agitation effort", he said, is to prevent
the erosion of democracy in Sri Lanka, push the GSL to
improve its record on human rights, and encourage a peaceful
resolution to the conflict. He said if the government were
to arrest him, that would actually be the "best thing that
could happen," but added he does not take rumors in the press
to that effect seriously.
3. ( C) On April 22, the UNP launched a new website,
www.unp.lk, which will serve as a forum for Sri Lankans to
post "e-papers." Wickremesinghe explained that many analysts
and journalists are reluctant to publish papers or articles
that are critical of the government because of safety
concerns. The new website will give these authors a safe
place to post their views anonymously.
International Lobbying Campaign
4. (C) The UNP will also kick off an international lobbying
campaign aimed at bringing worldwide attention to human
rights and press freedom problems in Sri Lanka. UNP member
of Parliament from Colombo Ravi Karunanayake will lead the
lobbying effort and plans to start his travels in the next
couple of weeks. Wickremesinghe is headed to the
International Democratic Union meeting in Dubrovnik on April
25 to compare notes with other opposition groups. This
lobbying campaign will be the focus of the UNP over the next
few months, he said.
5. (C) Another component of the campaign will be the release
of two reports documenting the government's alleged abuses.
The first is an International Press Institute report on media
freedom in Sri Lanka. The UNP plans to hold a ceremonial
emailing event later this week to distribute and bring
attention to the report, which includes several
recommendations on how the GSL can improve media freedom. A
second, UNP-drafted report will be released in couple of
weeks on "threats to democracy in Sri Lanka." This report
will cover a broader range of issues, and according to
COLOMBO 00000609 002 OF 002
Wickremesinghe, will make the President "explode."
GSL Not Serious About Peace
6. (C) Ambassador asked Wickremesinghe for his views on the
GSL's efforts to develop a political proposal to resolve the
conflict. Wickremesinghe said that the GSL is not serious
about the All Parties Representative Committee process and
doubts that a legitimate proposal will emerge. In his
opinion, the GSL is using the APRC process to play for time
while it trains additional troops for its military offensive.
Ambassador encouraged Wickremesinghe to support the
government on a political solution if a serious proposal does
7. (C) COMMENT: The UNP's new confrontational approach
carries some risk. The government has taken some early steps
against one of the most vocal UNP Members of Parliament,
Johnston Fernando (ref b), alleging that he had not returned
some office equipment and furniture from his time as a
Minister in the previous UNP government. The charges are
reminiscent of the equally inconsequential allegations
against the SLFP dissident Sripathi Sooriyarachchi, who has
been incarcerated since March 17 (ref c). These efforts
represent the UNP's most recent attempt to re-energize the
party in the wake of the demoralizing "crossovers" of key UNP
parliamentarians to the government side in January.
Wickremesinghe's new eagerness to make waves by taking the
government to task publicly is a significant departure from
his usual diffident style. It may help him to retain some of
the party's base, which had been chafing at the restraint he
had shown until recently. There will be some in his party
who will want him to attack any devolution proposal coming
from the President's SLFP, regardless of its merits.
However, Ranil has promised us several times that he will put
his country's interest above his party's -- if and when the
SLFP puts forward a viable proposal.