UK Special Envoy for Sri Lanka Des Browne visited New Delhi May 6-7 to consult with Indian officials on possible collaboration on the humanitarian and political situation in Sri Lanka.
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E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/13/2019 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PHUM, MOPS, CE, UK, IN SUBJECT: UK READOUT OF DES BROWNE (SPECIAL ENVOY FOR SRI LANKA) VISIT TO INDIA
REF: STATE 23178
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires, a.i. Peter Burleigh for Reasons 1.4 ( B, D)
1. (C) Summary. UK Special Envoy for Sri Lanka Des Browne visited New Delhi May 6-7 to consult with Indian officials on possible collaboration on the humanitarian and political situation in Sri Lanka. Browne briefed diplomats on his view of the situation in Sri Lanka, and a UK High Commission colleague briefed Poloff later on Browne's meetings with GOI officials. Browne received the message that India was under particular domestic pressure to do more on Sri Lanka due to election politics, but that Indian officials believed there was little anyone could do to alleviate the fighting as Sri Lankan government forces moved toward the end game of defeating the LTTE. Indian officials were more upbeat on chances to persuade President Rajapaksa to offer Tamils a political solution once fighting had ended. Post believes the time is ripe to press India to work more concretely with us on Sri Lanka issues. End Summary.
2. (C) Comment. Special Envoy Browne's briefing to diplomats reiterated that there are very few differences in the UK and U.S. approaches both to Sri Lanka and to the positive influence we believe India could wield in Sri Lanka. At the same time, despite some high-profile visits to Colombo and revved-up pro-Tamil campaign rhetoric, India has seemingly been reluctant to jump into a substantive role in Sri Lanka. However, with the combat appearing to be about to end, it is likely India will want to be more active in mid- and long-term political arrangements, as well as in humanitarian/reconstruction issues. With elections ending this week, we will soon be able to move full steam ahead with the new administration's engagement with India. The case of Sri Lanka offers an excellent opportunity for us to collaborate on an immediate regional issue with strategic implications, and we should hold India to promises made by its officials to both the UK and U.S. (such as Foreign Secretary Menon's to Secretary Clinton and Under Secretary Burns, reftel) to work more closely with us on reconstruction and post-conflict political reconciliation. End Comment.
3. (C) British Special Envoy for Sri Lanka Des Browne briefed diplomats in New Delhi on May 6 on his views on the crisis in Sri Lanka. Conceding ""I don't think anybody can change events over the next 10 or so days,"" Browne said he expected military operations would end soon and that he hoped a humanitarian catastrophe could be avoided. He said that the UK had put estimates of the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) between 180,000 and 200,000, adding that the Sri Lankan government may attempt to keep the IDPs in camps for longer than necessary in an attempt to manipulate the post-conflict political process. He noted that while the number of IDPs was overwhelming the camps, the humanitarian organizations which were operating in the affected areas were doing excellent work. As the conflict continues and IDPs increase, Browne said the international community should keep pressure on the GSL for unfettered access to camps.
4. (C) Looking beyond the military campaign, Browne believed the GSL realized a political solution which was acceptable to all parties and ethnic groups was necessary. However, he worried that the government would assume -- wrongly, in Browne's opinion -- that it could replicate the displacement of Tamils that it had earlier carried out in western Sri Lanka. Browne also expected the government to call for early elections, perhaps in early autumn, to try to capitalize on its military victory to control the election cycle. Should the government act unilaterally, or fail to implement a devolution package that addresses Tamil rights, it could ""become a breeding ground"" for a reconstitution of the LTTE and other terrorists, he suggested. Browne speculated that there could -- he emphasized it was just his personal conjecture -- be an advantageous role for the Tamil National Alliance, which he said had ""troubling elements"" but thought could be engaged to become constructive, much like Sinn Fein NEW DELHI 00000967 002 OF 002 had in the Northern Ireland conflict.
5. (C) While the Sri Lanka government had openly opposed international interference in the conflict, not least because of the political points it scored, Browne believed it would be willing to accept a role for the international community post-conflict. ""At the end of the day they'll want the money,"" he noted, adding that the government had expended vast resources conducting the war. The international contribution would bring added leverage for the international community, and Browne felt at that point India would be able to play a unique role. Given its Tamil population, India could play an honest broker in convincing Sri Lankan Tamils that their interests are being protected, Browne argued. India was also best placed to provide reconstruction aid, and India shared an interest in assuring the LTTE did not re-emerge.
6. (C) In his meetings with Foreign Secretary Menon and National Security Advisor Narayanan, Browne was assured that India shared our concerns over the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka, but heard a pessimistic view of prospects for persuading the GSL to agree to stop military operations, according to a UK High Commission contact. Menon and Narayanan were slightly more optimistic of the chances to persuade President Rajapaksa to offer the Tamils a genuinely inclusive political settlement once fighting had ended. It was the Indians' impression that President Rajapaksa believed this was his moment in history, i.e., a chance to bring peace to the island for good, but that the Sri Lankan Army was an obstacle, having been emboldened by its victory over the LTTE. Indian officials told Browne that it was useful to have Sri Lanka on the UNSC's agenda, and to issue periodic Presidential Statements, but that it would be counterproductive for the UN to ""gang up"" on Colombo; providing Rajapaksa with a rationale for fighting off international pressure would only serve to bolster his domestic political standing. Menon and Narayanan told Browne that they were concerned about Rajapaksa's post-conflict intentions, saying that if he did not implement the 13th Amendment Plus quickly, a new terrorist movement could quickly fill the vacuum left by the LTTE's defeat.