Ball-by-Ball through Wikileaks: US Embassy Despatches from Colombo, 2009: ONE

Ball-by-Ball through Wikileaks: US Embassy Despatches from Colombo, 2009: ONE

The issues associated with Eelam War IV and its last stages have drawn a huge array of reports, books, essays, video presentations and commentary. For a single mind to secure mastery of the material is a gargantuan task, well-nigh impossible in fact. Though I have essayed commentary on the topic from early 2009,[1] I meet new facts and useful new contentions on a regular basis.[2]

Recently, this problem has been exacerbated. An old treasure trove has reached me through the good offices of Citizen Silva.[3] This is the result of the espionage work of Julian Assange and those associated with WIKILEAKS: they have disclosed the whole range of American official documents from the Sri Lankan end. My store now has those in the years 2005-2010. As my initial foray I am slowly working through those for the first half of 2009.

ROBERT O BLAKE  M rajapaksa

Here I introduce a partially distilled summary of selected despatches from US ambassador Robert Blake (or his aides) to their superiors in the State Department in Washington. I do so in temporal sequence. More will follow from time to time. I encourage readers to essay commentary. In due course I will fashion an article myself.

The first pdf file for 2009 is identified in the Wikileaks list as “09COLOMBO03 CONFIDENTIAL.” The number after Colombo – 03 in the above example — changes and thus serves as identification tag. The generality of despatches are marked “UNCLASSIFIED” and a few “SECRET.” I have yet to work out the distinction between “Secret” and “Confidential.” In organising the presentation I have given my own number at the start in serial order and also identified the despatch by the number used after the word COLOMBO; while inserting the date in my preferred style (rather than the American fashion of month prior to day). Those citing the documents from my web-site can, therefore, refer to the first example below as I.1: Despatch 03, 2 January 2009. An example of one of the Wikileaks pdf leak-despatches is presented wholesale at the end of this post.

Where segments have been omitted, a series of dots …… indicates the spot. Words in italics are the headings or sub-headings deployed by the US embassy. I have taken the liberty of highlighting those segments of a despatch that I consider particularly relevant in light red, with deep red highlighting those that are even more noteworthy. Clearly, though, such markings must be read in context, while readers are encouraged to form their own assessments.

Note that on occasions the despatches are sent by the “Charge d’Affaires” — the person who was in charge of the diplomatic mission in the absence of the ambassador, usually the ambassador’s Number Two in the Mission. The despatches also sometimes refer to “Post” meaning the “Diplomatic Post, that is Colombo, Sri Lanka American Embassy” and to “DAO” or Defense Attach Office.”

I.1: Despatch 03, Confidential, dated 2 January 2009

SUMMARY: On the afternoon of January 2, President

Mahinda Rajapaksa announced the much-delayed capture of Kilinochchi on state television. The fall of the LTTE’s administrative capital follows a series of victories for the government on the Northern battlefield in the fall and early winter of 2008. Just an hour after the announcement, a suicide bomber killed an as-yet undetermined number of people outside the headquarters of the Sri Lankan Air Force in downtown Colombo. Early reports indicated at least two dead and as many as 30 injured. The loss of the LTTE’s former capital Kilinochchi is a major defeat for the LTTE who will continue to fight on, and a political boon to the President who may leverage the victory to call for general elections in the coming months. The GSL has predicted the fall of Kilinochchi months ago but the LTTE mounted a stout defense.

As government forces press in on the Tigers’ remaining areas of control, we expect further guerilla attacks on military and economic targets in the South. Without a political solution that meets Tamil aspirations, however, we do not believe the GSL will be able to put an end to Sri Lanka’s 25 year old conflict, because the LTTE will continue to be able to draw on funding from the Tamil diaspora and support within Sri Lanka…


Embassy recommends the following if-asked press guidance.

Begin Text

The United States hopes that the military advances made by

Government forces in recent months, including today’s

(apparent) recapturing of Kilinochchi, will help hasten an

end to the 25-year old conflict. The United States continues

to believe that the most important step the Government should

take to end the conflict is a political solution that meets

the aspirations of Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese. Without a

political solution that will enable the Government to win the

confidence of Tamils both in Sri Lanka and those that fund

the LTTE from the diaspora, a conclusive military victory

will be very difficult. End Text


COMMENT: In recent interviews with Reuters and the

BBC (ref A) LTTE Political Wing Chief Nadesan previewed LTTE

guerilla attacks that he categorized as “defensive”. In

fact, just an hour after the President’s address the

headquarters of the Sri Lankan Air Force in downtown Colombo

was bombed. Early reports indicated two deaths and as many

as 30 civilians were injured in the attack. We expect

similar incidents in the future as government forces press in

on the Tigers in the North. While the government’s victory

in Kilinochchi is significant, the LTTE still retains the

capability to inflict casualties at the front and throughout

the country. In fact, Army Commander Fonseka indicated in

the summer of 2008 that even if the government was able to

secure the entire Vanni the LTTE could easily go underground

with a residual force of 1000 and conduct hit and run attacks

on the military for several years as it attempted to secure

the Vanni. The Tigers’ ability to transform themselves into

an underground insurgent movement in the areas they formerly

controlled is a central reason we will continue to press the

government to engage on a political track. Without political

negotiations with members of the Tamil community that enjoy

respect and legitimacy, a lasting solution to Sri Lanka’s 25

years old conflict will prove elusive, because the LTTE will

continue to be able to draw on funding from the Tamil

diaspora and support within Sri Lanka. End Comment.



I.2: Despatch 12, Confidential, dated 6 January 2009

A senior Government Minister confirmed to Ambassador

on January 5 that the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) is likely

to ban the LTTE as early as Wednesday, January 7. Although he

was one of the Ministers involved in lifting the ban in 2002

so the Government could open peace talks with the LTTE, the

Minister confided that recent GSL military successes had

given impetus to JVP, JHU and other Sinhalese nationalists

within the Cabinet who not only want to pursue a military

solution to crush the LTTE, but also want to take advantage

of public support for recent military progress to also pursue

measures to curb Tamil nationalism. The Minister confided

there is no support in the Cabinet any longer for talks with

the LTTE so the proposal to ban the LTTE is likely to be

approved with wide support. However, he expressed concern

about the wider agenda to curb Tamil nationalism which he saw

as an opportunistic move by Sinhalese nationalists to

pre-empt any kind of political solution. He said he and

other moderates in the Cabinets quietly have spoken to

President Rajapakse who thus far remains committed to a

political solution, albeit after the LTTE has been defeated.

􀂈2. (C) Ambassador subsequently spoke with Norwegian

Ambassador Hattrem who agreed the GSL was likely to ban the

LTTE in the near future. He said he had urged the GSL not to

take this course since it does not gain the Government

anything. But he assessed that his appeal would have no

impact given the groundswell of support for the idea.

􀂈3. (C) Comment: We and other diplomats successfully

persuaded the GSL not to ban the LTTE when this idea came up

in the early and middle part of 2007 with the argument that a

ban would close off the possibility of dialogue with the

LTTE, and that it is always useful to have at least a

backchannel open to talk to the LTTE. However, the GSL never

opened any backchannel and the recent capture of Kilinochchi

(reftel) has reinforced optimism in Government circles that a

military victory over the LTTE is possible and therefore


I.3: Despatch 32, Confidential, dated 2 January 2009

Summary: In a January 8 meeting with President

Mahinda Rajapaksa requested by Ambassador, the President

offered little hope that investigations into recent attacks

on the press would lead anywhere, but agreed to provide

security for two prominent critics. He predicted the Sri

Lankan military would be able to occupy all of northern Sri

Lanka in “a couple of months,” and reaffirmed his

instructions to avoid civilian casualties. He agreed to look

at a UN suggestion to set up camps for IDPs in newly

liberated areas well away from Vavuniya, where serious human

rights violations have occurred, and to consider sending

reassurances to the IDPs that they will be treated according

to international standards and resettled once demining has

taken place. The President confirmed Sri Lanka will organize

Provincial Council elections in the north, along the model of

the Eastern Province, once the Vanni is occupied. He was

more vague about prospects for a serious proposal emerging

from the All Parties Representative Committee, or concrete

ideas for implementing the 13th amendment, which provides for

devolution to the provinces. End Summary.

Need to Protect Press Freedom and Civil Society

——————————————— —

lasantha wickrramatunga 1

􀂈2. (C) Ambassador opened by noting the USG’s condemnation

of the assassination of Morning Leader Editor Lasantha

Wickrematunge. President responded that he also had

condemned the murder and that he considered Wickrematunge a

personal friend. He stated Wickrematunge had invited him to

his wedding, which he had declined for security reasons. But

he said that he and his wife had planned to host

Wickrematunge and his wife for a celebratory dinner. The

Ambassador urged the government to mount a serious

investigation into the killing, particularly given the

allegations that the perpetrators may have been associated

with the government. The president categorically denied any

GSL involvement and noted that he had appointed a special investigative team. He admitted, however, that the police had a poor record in such investigations. For example, it had taken the police two years to determine the owner of the auto-rickshaw that was used in the attempted killing of his brother the Defense Secretary in 2006. The Ambassador responded that the government should make improvements in police capabilities a national priority.

􀂈3. (C) Ambassador told the President these latest incidents

against the press are widely seen as attempts to sqaush

dissent in Sri Lanka. The President again denied government

involvement and stressed that Wickrematunge had many enemies

because of his paper’s frequent exposure of corruption and

other misdeeds. The Ambassador urged that the government

provide police protection for Iqbal Athas, a Sunday Times

columnist who reports frequently on the war, and J.C.

Weliamuna, the head of Transparency International in Sri

Lanka and a prominent human rights lawyer. The President

expressed confidence nothing would happen to them. The

Ambassador respectfully disagreed and reiterated the request

for security, which the President agreed to provide.

Reassure IDPs

􀂈4. (C) Ambassador asked the President how long it would

take for the Sri Lankan military to completely occupy the

Vanni. Rajapaksa responded that he instructed the military

to take the utmost care to avoid civilian casualties, which

would delay military operations. He anticipated the military

would be able to occupy the North in “a couple of months.”

The Ambassador welcomed the President’s concern about

civilian casualties and urged the GSL to think about ways it

could reassure the 270,000 internally displaced people (IDPs)

in the north so that they would be willing to move into

government-controlled areas. The first challenge would be

for the UN and others to persuade the LTTE to allow freedom

of movement, which thus far it has been unwilling to do. But

another equally serious challenge was fear on the part of the

IDPs of the treatment they might receive at the hands of the

government. Ambassador noted that the UN had proposed to the

Government that the GSL and UNHCR establish camps in

newly-liberated areas of the North that were closer to the lands of the IDPs and well away from Vavuniya where very high

levels of extrajudicial killings, abductions and other human

rights abuses by paramilitaries in the area deter the IDPs

from moving there. The President agreed to look at such an

idea. Disaster Management Minister Samarasinghe agreed, but

noted that more than 1,000 IDPs had moved south to Vavuniya

already, where he claimed human rights abuses had come down

in recent months. The Ambassador also urged that the

government use the radio and leaflets to reassure the IDPs

that they would receive food and other relief in camps that

UNHCR would help to manage, and that they would be resettled

to their original homes as soon as demining could take place.

The President agreed this was a useful idea and asked his

staff to think about air dropping inexpensive radios the IDPs

could use.


Urgent Need for a Political Solution

􀂈5. (C) Ambassador noted his concern that military successes

had emboldened Sinhalese nationalists and other hard-liners

to expand their extreme agenda to include abolition of the

All Parties Representative Committee process. The Ambassador

urged the President to state publicly his commitment to a

political solution and spell out the elements of the

government’s strategy in that regard. The President

responded that once the military occupies the north, the

government’s strategy is to duplicate what it did in Eastern

Sri Lanka following the expulsion of the LTTE from that

region. The top priority would be to organize provincial

council elections. Ambassador responded that before the US

and other members of the international community could

consider assistance in resttling (sic) IDPs, we would need to be

assured that political arrangements and the government’s

Chief Minister candidate would enjoy the support of the

Tamils in the north. Social Services Minister Douglas

Devananda for example, would not be a suitable choice because

his paramilitary, the EPDP, had been responsible for the

killings and abductions of large numbers of Tamils in Jaffna.

The Ambassador suggested the GSL consult moderate Tamils

like TULF leader Anandasangaree to find candidates that would

enjoy Tamil support, including from the diaspora. The

President reassured the Ambassador that he was committed to

finding someone who would enjoy the support of the Tamils of

the Vanni, including possibly someone from the diaspora

􀂈6. (C) The Ambassador urged that the political strategy also

include a component to address wider Tamil political demands,

such as those ideas now under consideration by the APRC. The

President stated that he was waiting for the APRC to finish

its deliberations. He said he had instructed his aides to

look at establishing a new upper house of Parliament, for

example, to include representatives from each of Sri Lanka’s

25 districts. He also affirmed that the APRC and a separate

committee are working on ways to implement the 13th amendment

(which provides for devolution of power to the provinces).

He noted, for example, his support for giving Provincial

Councils authority over community policing.


Demobilizing Paramilitaries in the East

􀂈7. (C) The Ambassador previewed the upcoming visit to Sri

Lanka of PACOM J-5 MGEN Conant, who would also visit the

East. Ambassador took the opportunity to re-state the

urgency of Sri Lanka ensuring that the TMVP release all

remaining child soldiers and stop new recruiting. The

President responded the TMVP has no need for child soldiers

and expressed confidence child soldiers would be released.

Ambassador also urged that all TMVP paramilitary forces over

the age of 18 also be demobilized noting that the USG had a

program with the International Organization of Migration to

provide psycho-social care and vocational training. The

TMVP’s demobilization would mark a major step in bringing

security to the east. The President thanked the USG for such

programs and noted his understanding that the GSL had

arranged for some of the ex-TMVP combatants to obtain

employment in South Korea. Foreign Secretary Kohona asserted

that the recent economic downturn in South Korea might reduce

the number of job offers from Korea.



􀂈8. (C) As always, the President sought to be reassuring, but

offered few concrete assurances on any of the issues of importance to us. It was evident he has not thought through the specifics of what political solution he is prepared to offer, much less when. He remains focused on short-term priorities such as organizing the Central and Northwest Provincial Council elections in February and the war effort, and confident that he continues to enjoy strong support from his Sinhalese base.


77- War fronts 23 Dec 2008

I.4: Despatch 33, Secret, dated 9 January 2009

SUMMARY: The government of Mahinda Rajapaksa has

achieved considerable success in its military campaign

against the LTTE. The Defense Ministry under his brother,

Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, has had top priority for

funding and other support, and has used this mandate to

transform the Sri Lankan Army into a far more capable

fighting force than previously. As a result, this government

is now closer to expelling the Tigers from the north than

ever before. This will likely initiate a new even more

lethal phase of LTTE terrorism. In addition, the GSL’s

preoccupation with winning the war has contributed to serious

human rights abuses and mounting economic challenges.

Continued terrorism and governance problems underscore the

need for President Rajapaksa’s government to adopt a more

accommodating attitude toward its national minorities,

Muslims and others as well as Tamils. The U.S should be

prepared to assist with stabilizing the northern

Tamil-dominated areas of Sri Lanka after their liberation

from the Tamil Tigers, but we need to approach this

undertaking with considerable caution. We will need to

condition our cooperation on concrete GSL plans to come

forward with a political solution to undercut continued

popular support for the LTTE and empower legitimate Tamil

representatives who enjoy the support of Sri Lankan Tamils.

Embassy recommends that the U.S. work with India, the

Co-Chairs and others to encourage the Sri Lankan government

to launch a quiet political dialogue now with Tamils and

Muslims. We should also be prepared to help locate, detain

and hand over to Sri Lanka or India Prabhakaran and other

senior LTTE leaders should they leave the country. The U.S

should join with others in assisting the return of northern

IDPs, including de-mining assistance. We should consider

ways to leverage new assistance flows to the north, measures

to support new private sector investment from the large and

wealthy Tamil diaspora, duty free access for some limited

range of products from new factories built in the north, and

new AID funds to establish public-private partnerships. End

Military Scenarios: How Long Will It Take?


􀂈2. (SBU) The loss of Kilinochchi and the crossroads town

north of it, Paranthan, have rendered LTTE positions on the

southern portion of the Jaffna peninsula untenable. They are

already effectively cut off from the main LTTE forces around

the remaining Tiger bastion of Mullaitivu. The Tigers

anticipated this situation and have withdrawn the bulk of

their cadres and heavy equipment, such as artillery, toward


…. Government ministers have told us that they hope to gain control of Mullaitivu and thereby eliminate the LTTE as a semi-conventional force within two or three months. However, President Rajapaksa told Ambassador on January 8 that it could take several months because he was intent on avoiding large-scale civilian casualties. Our sense is that much stiff fighting remains. The commendable imperative to spare the civilian population will slow progress against remaining LTTE forces. With government troops virtually on

the outskirts of Mullaitivu to the south and west, our

military assessment is that it might be possible to capture

the town – which until now has sheltered relatively few

displaced persons – in about two months, perhaps by

mid-March. But it could be months longer before the GSL is

able to occupy all of the north if the Tigers are able to

maintain their hold over the civilian population under their


􀂈4. (C) As Army Commander Fonseka has acknowledged, that will

not end the fighting. The LTTE will likely go underground,

with cadres attempting to blend in with the civilian

population in other parts of Sri Lanka. Some, especially the

leadership, could try to leave by boat while they still hold

Mullaitivu. However, it is not clear where they could go.

India might tolerate a few disarmed ex-cadres washing up on

its shores, but has made clear that it seeks to prosecute the

Tiger leadership for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. In

any case, we expect a new even more lethal phase of LTTE

terrorism to begin. Absent a political package for Tamils

that is sufficiently credible for Sri Lankan Tamils to stop

providing support to the LTTE – and the Tamil Diaspora to

stop funding the LTTE – the conflict is likely to grind on in

another form.



􀂈5. (SBU) The conditions for about 300,000 civilians trapped

in the north behind LTTE lines remain serious, and are likely

to get worse as the space they are restricted to becomes

smaller, increasing the risk for higher civilian casualties.

The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) previously gathered

around Oddusuddan have reportedly moved again, further into

territory still under LTTE control. Others who fled

Kilinochchi have joined many others in the Puthukkudiyiruppu

(PTK) area, which has become extremely crowded. There are a

number of camps along the A35 highway which would be in the

direct path of a further Army advance. Schools and other

facilities are overflowing. With a small number of ICRC

workers in the north, and sporadic, short UN visits, there is

an urgent need for a comprehensive UN needs assessment of

conditions for the IDPs. Humanitarian workers report that

the food supply appears adequate, mainly due to the ten UN

convoys that have made it through to the affected population.

There remain urgent unmet needs for shelter, however.

􀂈6. (C) The IDPs remain trapped between two determined foes.

The Government resists a needs assessment because they want

to provide enough food that the IDPs don’t starve, while

keeping conditions difficult enough that the IDPs have an

incentive to move into GSL-controlled areas. The LTTE has

not allowed them to move to Government-controlled areas, in

part so the LTTE can continue forced recruiting, in part

because their presence will slow the Sri Lankan military

progress. The LTTE has been recruiting civilians

aggressively for years. There can be few, if any families

remaining in the LTTE-controlled areas that do not have

members within the LTTE ranks. The small number – in the

hundreds – who have managed to escape the combat theater so

far have generally not been allowed freedom of movement, but

are being held in what amount to internment camps while

screening for LTTE cadres or sympathizers proceeds at a

glacial pace.


􀂈7. (C) The UN, ICRC and others who assist the displaced

populations are concerned that applying this policy to

hundreds of thousands of Vanni residents is a recipe for

disaster. The government has prepared reception facilities

for only a few thousand people in Vavuniya, an area where

violent anti-LTTE militias roam at will and commit serious

human rights violations and crimes like robbery and extortion

on a daily basis. The UN is proposing establishing camps

under international monitoring in the western Vanni, closer

to the points of origin of the IDPs. This would be far

enough from the fighting, but close enough to their homes

that people would be more likely to leave LTTE-controlled

areas, if the LTTE permits. We support this idea; government

officials we have spoken to, including President Rajapaksa,

appear willing to consider this.

Internal Political Prognosis


􀂈8. (C) Domestic (“Southern”) political considerations often

determine the government’s approach to the conflict.

President Rajapaksa received very few minority votes and therefore owes little to Sri Lanka’s minorities. His support

is drawn almost exclusively from the Sinhalese Buddhist

majority, who by themselves can ensure his re-election.

Since his election in 2005, he has felt boxed in by the lack

of a stable parliamentary majority. Unproductive

one-upmanship and mistrust between his SLFP and the main

opposition UNP have been the single most destructive

political trend since the mid 1950s, stalemating any

effective moves toward national reconciliation. A key part

of the President’s support comes from hardline nationalists,

some of whom are in the Sinhalese supremacist parties JVP and

JHU. We do not consider the President to be an extremist,

but there are key figures in his entourage who hold

chauvinist views. We, the Indians and others are worried

about ascendant extremism among Sinhalese nationalists who

have a different agenda: not just defeating the LTTE, but

suppressing Tamil nationalism, hamstringing the effort to

develop a devolution proposal and thereby blocking progress

toward a political solution.

􀂈9. (C) The President’s trump card is the success of the

campaign against the LTTE. With his military victories, he

may feel confident enough to call a general parliamentary

election around April 2009. The Provincial Council elections

in two regions on February 14 will be a key test of how deep

the gratitude is within his Sinhalese base for his progress

in ridding the country of the Tigers. If the President’s

pollsters and political advisors assess that the prospects

for improving the government’s position in Parliament are

only fair, he may follow his usual inclination to defer

important decisions and put off the election until later.

Whatever the timing, only if he emerges from an election with

a more stable majority and less dependence on nationalist

forces will he feel comfortable about moving publicly in the

direction of concessions to the minorities.

􀂈10. (C) There is reason to be wary about the government’s

willingness to initiate post-conflict political arrangements

in the northern Tamil heartland of Jaffna and the Vanni that

will enjoy the support of Tamils from those areas. The

current government has shown little sensitivity to Tamils’

perceptions of injustice or their long-held aspirations for a

modicum of self-governance in the areas where they

predominate. The government’s track record of delivering on

commitments made to the international community on, for example, the conclusion of the All Parties Representative

Committee, is generally poor. Likewise, it has reneged on

commitments to improve human rights and address its and

previous governments’ almost unbroken failure to bring anyone

to justice for past abuses. While elements of the government

clearly want to engage on this, others are clearly intent on

suppressing dissenting views. The past week alone has seen a

brazen armed attack on a TV transmitting station and the

assassination of an opposition newspaper editor. Perhaps

even more important, the government has repeatedly missed its

own deadlines for presenting a plan for regional power

sharing through the APRC. The committee charged with

developing a proposal has been short-circuited by

interference from the President himself; the process stalled

a year ago and has become a sham.


A Political Solution: the New “Peace Process”


􀂈11. (C) The Government’s steady military successes have

ended its support for any talks or negotiations with the

LTTE. The GSL’s decision to ban the LTTE earlier this week

marked the final nail in coffin for negotiations with the LTTE. Since the LTTE very soon will not control territory and will likely increase terrorism, it is no longer credible for the international community to call for talks with the LTTE. We are more than ever convinced, however, that the GSL must now put forward a plan for national reconciliation that includes measures to address Tamil political demands within a united Sri Lanka, and an improvement in human rights. Otherwise, the LTTE is likely to be able to carry on a terrorist campaign with support from diaspora Tamils for years to come. The President, in his speech after the fall of Kilinochchi, characterized it as a victory over the LTTE, not of one ethnic group over another. He has previously stated that once the fighting stops, he will work towards a solution that takes into account the concerns and rights of all Tamils. However, the President is under pressure from the Sinhalese nationalist camp to move away from a political solution. A senior minister told us that the President remains committed to making an offer to the Tamils but does not want to get into a debate with Sinhalese nationalists now, while the battle continues in the north, and before the February 14 Provincial Council elections.


􀂈12. (C) The missing political track represents a

considerable threat to Sri Lanka’s future stability. Another

crucial, but missing element is that of possible alternative

leadership credible to Northern Province Tamils. The

government will be tempted to install as Chief Minister of

the Northern Province a “quisling” Tamil so it can try to

micro-manage the north. One eager candidate to become the

new Chief Minister of the Northern Province is Eelam Peoples’

Democratic Party leader Douglas Devananda, a notorious

villain who earned his place on the USG’s visa watch list for

his sponsorship of extrajudicial killings. We have warned

the President and his Government that since Devananda would

not enjoy popular Tamil support, his installation as Chief

Minister would limit U.S. ability to engage and support

stabilization of the north. The President and most GSL

interlocutors understand that U.S. cannot support an

undemocratic, authoritarian, quisling regime in the north.

We have encouraged them to engage the few Tamil moderates who

have not been killed by the LTTE – such as two former

Parliamentarians, Anandasangaree of the Tamil United

Liberation Front and Siddharthan of the People’s Liberation

Organization of Tamil Eelam – to help find candidates

acceptable to Vanni Tamils. Note: these figures enjoy

little popular support and are themselves unlikely to be able

to fill the leadership vacuum.


The Coming Fiscal Squeeze


􀂈13. (C) In 2008, the government showed little inclination to

take the advice of Western donor countries on board.

Instead, it relied on assistance from non-traditional

sources, including low interest loans from China and generous

credit terms for oil imports from Iran. However, the drop in

oil prices will limit Iran’s future generosity and China is

also experiencing an economic slowdown. Fiscal pressures are

mounting. Sri Lanka drew down its foreign exchange reserves

in a failed attempt to defend the rupee against the dollar.

The country’s export industries, including tea, garments and

rubber, as well as tourism, are hurting. Remittances from

workers abroad, a lifeline for the country’s balance of payments, are falling, a trend that is likely to accelerate.

Sri Lanka’s deteriorating fiscal position will be compounded

by an inability to access international capital markets to

finance its deficit, officially budgeted at 6.5% of GDP for

  1. The global credit crunch will eventually hit all the

harder because of the failure of the state-owned petroleum

company, acting on an interim order from the Supreme Court,

to honor oil hedging contracts with several foreign banks.

Both private companies and, especially, government-owned

enterprises will generally be unable to obtain import

financing on normal commercial terms as a result, a trend

that has already started. The GSL will find itself unable to

finance northern reconstruction and will seek help from the

international community. This presents both problems and

opportunities for U.S. policy.



What the U.S. Should Do


􀂈14. (S) As we look ahead, we recommend that the U.S. work

with India, the Co-Chairs and others to:

— Encourage the Sri Lankan government to launch a quiet

political dialogue now with Tamils and Muslims so the

Government is ready to announce its strategy for a political

solution once the fighting is over in the next several

months. (Note: the GSL has rebuffed our public and private

suggestions to announce a political solution now because it

thinks this might signal weakness as the military wraps up

fighting in the north.) At a minimum, its strategy should

include a timetable and plan for elections to elect a new

Provincial Council that enjoys the support of northern

Tamils; a concrete timetable for completing the APRC process,

which the international community should be prepared to

encourage the opposition UNP and other parties to support,

provided it is credible; and measures to ensure credible

devolution of power to the provinces consistent with the 13th


— Be ready to engage to help rebuild the post-conflict

North, provided we have assurances on several key matters

First, we must be confident that arrangements for local

elections in the north enjoy the support of northern Tamils.

Second, the government must be prepared to move quickly, with

international help, to return the Vanni IDPs to their homes

and lands. Third, the GSL must launch a process with UNHCR

and Muslims displaced from Jaffna to allow those Muslims to

return to their homes if they choose, once demining has taken



The U.S. also should:

Be prepared to help locate, detain and hand over to Sri

Lanka or India Prabhakaran and other senior LTTE leaders

should they leave the country, particularly if a credible

timetable and plan for a political solution that meets Tamil

demands has been put forward.

— Beyond plans for assisting the return of northern IDPs,

consider ways to leverage new assistance flows to the north,

which has suffered from years of under-investment and

neglect, not to mention the damage from recent fighting. The

most immediate need will be to assist in what is likely to be

a massive de-mining task, which must precede resettlement and

development activities. We also recommend S/CRS be prepared

to deploy an assessment team to consider a USG-supported

stabilization and development program. Beyond that, we

recommend consideration of other measures to support new

private sector investment, particularly from the large and

wealthy Tamil diaspora. One idea would be duty free access

for some limited range of products from new factories built

in the north. Another would be new AID funds to establish

public-private partnerships that can leverage potentially

significant private sector investments.




[1] Several of these essays are available in Roberts, Fire and Storm, Colombo, Yapa Publications, 2010 (ISBN ….) and in Roberts, Tamil Person and State: Essays, Colombo, Yapa Publications, 2014.

[2] For instance, see Issues of Truth and Accountability. The Last Stages of the War, Colombo, Marga Institute & Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, 2014. Try …. And … and

[3] Principal author of IDAG, The Numbers Game: Politics of Retributive Justice, 2013, available at OR



Filed under accountability, american imperialism, authoritarian regimes, centre-periphery relations, constitutional amendments, democratic measures, economic processes, governance, historical interpretation, Indian Ocean politics, landscape wondrous, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, nationalism, politIcal discourse, power politics, prabhakaran, propaganda, Rajapaksa regime, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, tamil refugees, Tamil Tiger fighters, terrorism, the imaginary and the real, truth as casualty of war, UN reports, war crimes, world events & processes

40 responses to “Ball-by-Ball through Wikileaks: US Embassy Despatches from Colombo, 2009: ONE

  1. chandre Dharmawardana

    “Social Services Minister Douglas Devananda for example, would not be a suitable choice because his paramilitary, the EPDP, had been responsible for the killings and abductions of large numbers of Tamils in Jaffna. The Ambassador suggested the GSL consult moderate Tamils
    like TULF leader Anandasangaree to find candidates that would
    enjoy Tamil support, including from the diaspora”.

    The NCP elections in 2013 showed that those who were voted in are just the kith and kin, i.e., descendents of those who were in power after the Donoghmore commission in the 1930s, in 1948, 1952, 1956, etc., all the way up to 1977.
    There has been no change in the Tamil governing clique. There has been no opportunity for new leaders to appear among the Northern voters – most of the TNA members of parliament are Colombo-resident absentee landlords of the North, almost all of them (except Anandasangaree) having been close supporters of the LTTE.

    This is not surprising because the LTTE had suppressed or decimated all new Tamil political leaders arsing among the Northern residents. It will take at least a generation before new leadership, and new money raised close to the people,can create some type of de facto democracy in the North.

  2. If you carefully read the Diplomatic Cables sent from the US Embassy, Colombo Sri Lanka to Washington, one could see that the State Department, despite its total disapproval of the Tiger terrorism and rejection of a separate Tamil state, was pressing on a political solution to what it believed was the ‘Tamil National Question’. The State Department and its foreign service officers (FSOs) strongly believed since the 80s that the minority Tamils in Sri Lanka faceda certain discrimination in many fields such as education and employement and that the emergence of the LTTE was due to the successive Sri Lankan regimes failure to address these issues. The terminology, choice of words and ‘comments’ at almost every diplomatic cable gives that impression, and encouraged to have a dialogue to resolve the ‘Tamil National Question’. The US has not changed its position even now – post war – when one sees the manner in which it handles Sri Lanka in UNHRC and in Washington. In fact, some cables, one will see, the US did not want the LTTE totally annihilated, in my opinion to maintain it as a pressure group to get the GSL to effect changes in Sri Lanka. Daya Gamage/Asian Tribune

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