189383, 1/29/2009 12:27, 09 COLOMBO 106, Embassy Colombo, CONFIDENTIAL,, "VZCZCXYZ0000OO RUEHWEBDE RUEHLM #0106/01 0291227ZNY CCCCC ZZHO 291227Z JAN 09FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBOTO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9274RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 2588INFO RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO PRIORITY 4630RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 3736RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 3160RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0887RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITYRHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY","C O N F I D E N T I A L COLOMBO 000106

SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/28/2018 TAGS: PREL, PREF, PHUM, IN, CE SUBJECT: INDIAN EXTERNAL AFFAIRS MINISTER STRESSES HUMANITARIAN CONCERNS TO SRI LANKAN LEADERSHIP

Classified By: Ambassador Robert O. Blake, Jr. for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: In a briefing on the January 27 visit to Sri Lanka of External Affairs Minister Mukherjee, Indian Deputy High Commissioner stressed that Mukherjee registered deep concern over the current humanitarian crisis in the Vanni, where Tamil civilians are caught in the crossfire between military forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He insisted that the military ensure that medical supplies reach the safe zone, that exit routes for civilians be clearly marked and communicated, and that every effort be taken to avoid civilian casualties. President Rajapaksa was receptive to these humanitarian concerns. The short notice on which this visit was organized and the fact that it came on the heels of the January 16-17 visit for Indian Foreign Secretary Menon sent a clear signal to Colombo of the Indian government's deep concern, domestic political considerations notwithstanding, over the perilous situation for civilians in the Vanni. End summary.

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Lightning Visit Organized on Short Notice

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2. (C) Indian Deputy High Commissioner Vikram Misri briefed DCM and other diplomatic colleagues on the January 27 visit to Colombo of External Affairs Minister Mukherjee. The visit was organized on short notice, with the Indian High Commission only learning of it 24 hours in advance. Mukherjee arrived at 2030, met with senior GSL officials, briefed the press, and departed after less than five hours on the ground. Sri Lankan participants in the two-hour meeting at the President's residence were President Rajapaksa, Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona, Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe, Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, the Chief of Defense Staff, the service chiefs, and the Inspector General of Police.

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Concern Over Deteriorating Humanitarian Situation Foremost

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3. (C) Army Commander Fonseka briefed on the progress of the war since 2006, but his presentation soon gave way to a frank discussion that focused heavily on the humanitarian situation in the Vanni. Mukherjee stressed that he had come to Colombo with no objective other than to ensure that the human rights and safety of civilians were protected. Mukherjee emphasized four points related to the humanitarian situation:

- The current ""safe zone"" is not functioning as a safe zone; - The military must create a humanitarian corridor and ensure that medical supplies reach the safe zone and the hospital in Puthukkudiyiruppu (PTK) remain open; - Exit routes for civilians who want to come out of the Vanni should be clearly marked and communicated; and - Every effort must be made to avoid human casualties.

4. (C) The President was receptive to these humanitarian concerns. He acknowledged that the army is shelling LTTE gun positions in the northeastern portion of the safe zone, but claimed that no civilians are permitted in this area. He flatly denied the claim that 300 civilians had been killed in recent days. Minister Samarasinghe said he had spoken with Dr. T. Varatharajah, the Regional Director of Medical Services in Mullaitivu, who allegedly issued a written statement making this claim. Samarasinghe said the doctor insisted he had issued no such statement and had neither a fax nor email, both of which are listed on the bottom of the statement. (Comment: While the statement itself may possibly have been disinformation, UN officials on the ground have stated that there have been numerous civilian casualties (approximately 50 deaths and more injuries per day) during the last week. They acknowledge that some of the dead may be LTTE cadres, but indicate that most are civilians. End comment.)

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President Says APRC Process Nearly Over

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5. (C) On the political front, President Rajapaksa said he supports a 13th Amendment-plus approach, but did not specify what the ""plus"" would entail. According to Misri, the President indicated that the APRC process in its current form is nearly at an end and that he plans to tell APRC Chairman Tissa Vitharana what he wants in the proposal and instruct him to issue such a proposal.

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Beyond Domestic Political Calculations, Serious Concern

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6. (C) When asked by DCM the degree to which domestic political considerations were behind Mukherjee's visit, Misri acknowledged that these were a factor but stressed that New Delhi is deeply worried about the humanitarian crisis in the Vanni. He added that Indians throughout the country, not just in Tamil Nadu, are troubled by the high level of causualties sustained by Tamil civilians caught in the crossfire.

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Press Statement

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7. (U) Before departing the country, Mukherjee made the following statement to the press.

Begin text:

I had detailed, useful and productive discussions with H.E. President Rajapaksa and am pleased with the comprehensive briefing by the Sri Lankan side. We covered recent developments in Sri Lanka, the entire gamut of India-Sri Lanka relations and regional issues of mutual interest. India-Sri Lanka relations are developing strongly. It is particularly important at this time of transition and change that we should continue to strengthen our ties.

The President mentioned his hopes for future developments in Sri Lanka. I stressed that military victories offer a political opportunity to restore life to normalcy in the Northern Province and throughout Sri Lanka, after twenty three years of conflict. The President assured me that this was his intent. We will work together with the Government of Sri Lanka to enable all Sri Lankans, and particularly the Tamil community who have borne the brunt of the effects of the conflict, to lead normal lives as soon as possible.

For our part, I expressed our readiness to participate in the reconstruction of northern Sri Lanka so as to overcome the ravages of war and also to lay the economic and political foundations of a strong peace in which all communities feel comfortable. We will be working together on a reconstruction plan for these areas which will involve infrastructure and other support. I was happy to be informed of progress towards the establishment of a 500 MW thermal power project near Trincomalee by NTPC from India.

H.E. President Rajapaksa assured me that it was his intention to move as quickly as possible to implement the 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution, which, you would recall, followed the Indian-Sri Lanka agreement of 1987. In fact, he would explore the possibility of going further and improving upon those devolution proposals.

We also reviewed the humanitarian situation as a result of the conflict. The Sri Lankan Government has reassured that they would respect the safe zones and minimize the effects of conflict on Tamil Civilians. As you know, India has extended its relief supplies to civilians caught up in the zone of conflict and intends to continue doing so.

After our conversation H.E. President Rajapaksa was good enough to extend a personal invitation to an all-party delegation from Tamil Nadu led by Chief Minister Karunanidhi and Ms. Jayalalitha to see for themselves the situation on the ground and to persuade the LTTE to lay down arms and join the democratic mainstream. (Note: It is not clear that this invitation extended to the Vanni; we imagine this would be unlikely. End note.)

An early restoration of normal democratic life in the areas

affected by the conflict would be a major contribution to peace and stability. India will do all that it can bring this about, working with all those who work for this goal with us.

End text

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Comment

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8. (C) The short notice on which Mukherjee's trip was organized and the fact that it came little more than ten days after the visit of Foreign Secretary Menon clearly signaled to the Sri Lankan governnment the seriousness with which New Delhi views the current humanitarian situation in the Vanni. Despite the diplomatic niceties of Mukherjee's press statement, the Indian High Commission's readout of the visit indicated that it was all about the need for better protection for Tamil civilians.

Blake "