In a November 3 meeting with Ambassador, Presidential senior advisor Basil Rajapaksa agreed security remains a problem in eastern Sri Lanka and agreed to discuss with the Defense Secretary a timetable for demobilizing paramilitaries there.
176664 11/4/2008 12:25 08COLOMBO994 Embassy Colombo CONFIDENTIAL 08NEWDELHI2803 "VZCZCXYZ0005 PP RUEHWEB
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SUBJECT: BASIL RAJAPAKSA DISCUSSES INDIA TRIP, PARAMILITARIES IN THE EAST REF: NEW DELHI 2803
Classified By: Ambassador Robert O. Blake, Jr. for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) Summary: In a November 3 meeting with Ambassador, Presidential senior advisor Basil Rajapaksa agreed security remains a problem in eastern Sri Lanka and agreed to discuss with the Defense Secretary a timetable for demobilizing paramilitaries there. Regarding his recent trip to India, he said both sides had resolved disputes over Tamil Nadu fishing boats that the GSL believes are providing cover for supplies of fuel and arms to the LTTE. Rajapaksa indicated that India also pressed Sri Lanka to devolve more powers to the eastern province, beginning with powers such as agrarian services that would not be controversial. The President will shortly appoint a Cabinet-level committee to compare the powers already devolved to the Central Province with those devolved to the east to be sure the east has not been shortchanged. Indian High Commissioner Prasad expressed pessimism the GSL will consider a more ambitious power-sharing blueprint to solve the conflict given current the Parliamentary configuration and steadfast JVP and JHU opposition to greater power-sharing. End Summary.
Security in the East
2. (C) Ambassador opened by briefing Rajapaksa on the status of new AID programs in eastern Sri Lanka, noting that one of the centerpieces of our program is to develop public-private partnerships to encourage new private sector investments in order to create jobs and prevent the LTTE from reorganizing. However, Sri Lankan private sector investors and many others remain concerned about continued violence in the east. The Ambassador pressed Rajapaksa to help reduce the violence by demobilizing the TMVP (including child soldiers) and by taking steps to resolve growing friction between Chief Minister Pillayan and Karuna. Rajapaksa responded that he shared U.S. concerns about security. He said he had met earlier in the day with police Deputy Inspector General Balasuriya who is responsible for the police in the east to urge him to improve security there. He asserted that the security forces must take charge, otherwise the LTTE will have new opportunities to gain favor in the east. Basil also confided that Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa recently met with Karuna and Pillayan to instruct them to work together. Basil admitted this is a challenge since ""both are used to using guns to solve problems.""
3. (C) The Ambassador pressed Rajapaksa on the importance of demobilizing the TMVP, noting that the GSL has been promising action on this for months without progress. Rajapaksa agreed this must be done, but noted several challenges. Karuna and Pillayan are concerned new LTTE forces in the east will kill unarmed TMVP cadres as has already happened on several occasions. Ambassador rejoined that TMVP cadres that are needed to fight the LTTE should be made part of the security forces and paid while the rest can be given vocational training and sent abroad. Basil agreed that he and the Defense Secretary want that, but TMVP cadres are resisting because they don't want to be subject to the discipline and regular hours that army service would entail. Ambassador again pressed Rajapaksa to put in place a time table for demobilization, without which this would drift indefinitely. Rajapaksa agreed to take this up with the Defense Secretary.
4. (C) Turning to Rajapaksa's recent visit to Delhi to answer Indian anxieties about the situation in Sri Lanka, Ambassador asked Rajapaksa for his assessment. Rajapaksa said that the number one issue for Indians and the Tamil Nadu Government had been fishing. The Indians had been concerned about Sri Lankan naval vessels firing on Indian fishing trawlers, while Sri Lanka was concerned that Indian fishing vessels fishing illegally between the island of Delft and the Mannar peninsula were also providing cover for some Indian fishing vessels to smuggle arms and fuel to the LTTE. He said the Sri Lankan Navy had increased patrols by deploying smaller shallow-draft vessels that had helped to reduce Indian fishing violations, but had also increased tensions with Tamil Nadu. The two sides agreed that Indian fishing vessels would carry valid registrations and permits and that they would not venture into areas considered sensitive by the Sri Lankans. Sri Lanka in turn agreed to not fire on Indian fishing vessels.
5. (C) On the humanitarian situation in the north, Rajapaksa said the Indians had expressed particular concern about civilian casualties from Sri Lankan military operations, as well as the need to do a better job of winning Tamil hearts and minds. The Indians argued that progress on these issues would help keep the region ""free of outside interference"" and would enable India to better support Sri Lanka in its fight against the LTTE.
6. (C) On political issues Rajapaksa said both sides had agreed on the need to ""move toward"" a peaceful, negotiated political settlement, which Rajapaksa said is consistent with the President's Mahinda Chintana (the policy document articulated by the President when he ran for office). Rajapaksa indicated that the Indians had pressed Sri Lanka to devolve more powers to the Eastern Province, beginning with powers such as agrarian services that would not be controversial. Rajapaksa revealed that the President shortly would appoint a committee to compare the powers already devolved to the Central Province with those devolved to the east to be sure the east had not been shortchanged. The committee would be led by Constitutional Affairs Minister Gunasekera and would include representatives from the Central and Eastern Provinces. The committee also would suggest what further powers might be devolved to the east. Rajapaksa added that the east already enjoyed some special powers not enjoyed by other provinces; for example, the World Bank and ADB had been given authority to bypass the central government and work directly with the Eastern Provincial Council.
Indian High Commissioner Emphasizes Political Discussions
7. (C) In a later meeting with Indian High Commissioner Prasad, Prasad confirmed to the Ambassador the information above, but said the Indian side had placed greater emphasis on devolution than fishing. While the majority of the talks had dealt with how Sri Lanka might accelerate devolution of responsibilities to the East, Prasad also noted that India had told Sri Lanka it must be thinking of the outlines of a settlement that goes beyond devolution of power under the 13th amendment. He acknowledged, however, that India had very little hope that Sri Lanka would do more in this regard given that the President lacks the 2/3 majority in Parliament he would need to amend the Constitution and given the steadfast opposition by the JHU and JVP even to limited devolution unter The 13th Amendment. On humanitarian issues, Prasad said that since the UN and WFP are doing a good job of getting basic food to the IDPs in the north, India is planning to send 80,000 boxes to the north, each of which would go to a family to provide needed clothing, spices, and other supplies to supplement what the UN is providing.
8. (C) As reported earlier, Basil's visit to Delhi helped tamp down complaints from Tamil Nadu. Its longer term impact is less clear. The appointment of a committee led by the well regarded moderate Gunasekera might well help speed up the progress of devolution that has been very slow thus far. But we share India's pessimism that President Rajapaksa will not likely be prepared to endorse any kind of power-sharing beyond that allowed under the existing authority of the 13th amendment.