According to a local Indian diplomat, his government remains hopeful, despite the April 25 assassination attempt on Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, that the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) can engage the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in a second round of talks.
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RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 1167" "C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 000721
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/02/2016
TAGS: PREL, PTER, PGOV, IN, CE
SUBJECT: INDIANS STILL HOPING GENEVA TALKS CAN RESUME UNDER "BROADER AGENDA"
REF: A. COLOMBO 713
B. COLOMBO 697
C. COLOMBO 686
Classified By: DCM JAMES F. ENTWISTLE. REASON: 1.4 (B,D).
1. (C) According to a local Indian diplomat, his government remains hopeful, despite the April 25 assassination attempt on Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, that the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) can engage the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in a second round of talks. To get the talks back on track, the Indians are encouraging President Mahinda Rajapaksa to elaborate on the ""maximum devolution"" he has said he is willing to offer as part of a political settlement. The diplomat agreed that greater international cooperation on interdicting Tiger fundraising and weapons procurement could be an effective way to influence LTTE behavior. End summary.
INDIANS PUSHING RAJAPAKSA ON ""POLITICAL PLAN""
2. (C) In an April 27 meeting, Indian First Secretary Amandeep Singh Gill told poloff that his government remains hopeful that the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) could still, after the requisite GSL retaliatory operations following the April 25 attempt on the life of Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka (Reftels), meet for a second round of talks. ""Once they respond to this incident, maybe the Government could take a leap"" and do something politically courageous--like outlining a proposal for a system of government offering ""maximum devolution"" to the north and east--to get dialogue restarted, he suggested.
3. (C) Even before the Fonseka assassination attempt, the Indians had told the GSL that the now-postponed second round of talks should have a ""broader agenda on political issues . . .a free-wheeling discussion with no set agenda,"" Gill said. If the talks continue to focus merely on ceasefire implementation (which for the Tigers means talking only about the Karuna faction and for the GSL means trying to avoid talking about the Karuna faction), the two parties ""will never get anywhere."" (Comment: The GSL has told us it wants to broaden the agenda for talks as well but seems unsure exactly how to go about this.) The Tigers were using the previous government's failure to respond to the LTTE's proposed Interim Self-Governing Administration (ISGA) as a pretext to claim the peace process was futile; to refute that the GSL should come out with a ""political plan"" for the north and east, Gill emphasized. The formulation Rajapaksa used during his campaign for President in the fall--""maximum devolution"" within an undivided Sri Lanka--seems like an acceptable starting point to the Indians, Gill commented, and could give the President the political cover needed with Sinhalese hardline parties like the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) while the GSL fleshes out a workable proposal. The problem now is that the original ""maximum devolution"" formula is so vague that it is interpreted in different ways by different people (including within the GSL itself), with the greatest variation arising in the use of ""undivided"" Sri Lanka vice ""united"" Sri Lanka vice ""unitary"" Sri Lanka (the latter interpretation ruling out federalism).
4. (C) Gill said he believed the failure to agree on the transportation issue (Reftels), which nominally forced the postponement of the second round of talks originally scheduled for April 19-21, could have been avoided if Rajapaksa had shown greater flexibility. If the Tigers
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insisted that eastern cadres had to come north for a central committee meeting--whatever the real reason might have been--the GSL ""should have given them some leeway"" if the alternative was not having the talks at all. The LTTE's constant reminders that such transportation had been provided by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe no doubt irritated Rajapaksa, who may have felt the LTTE was trying to put him into a ""Ranil"" box, but so what? Wickremesinghe had already set a precedent that Rajapaksa could easily have followed, Gill suggested, but the President had to contend with the JVP and JHU, which were arguing against accommodation. President Rajapaksa, however, was ""fixated"" on the fact that his own military commanders are not provided air transport whenever they want to go somewhere, Gill said, and thus lost sight of the bigger picture. Another plan to move the LTTE cadres by sea could also have worked, the Indian diplomat said, but neither side wanted to ""take the leap"" needed to make it happen. (Note: Other sources put the blame squarely on the Tigers.)
5. (C) In the Indians' view, by trying to kill the Army Commander, the Tigers made clear that they see no point in pursuing talks in Geneva. The Tigers have calculated that the Co-chairs and the rest of the international community may ""fire paper missiles"" at them but will do nothing that will really hurt LTTE interests, Gill said. Asking about the likelihood of an EU terrorist designation, he speculated that even that measure, while certainly unwelcome, would not deter the LTTE. He agreed that international cooperation to curb Tiger fundraising and weapons procurement overseas could be an effective way to get the Tigers' attention.
FONSEKA ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT SHOWS THE TIGERS STILL HAVE TEETH
6. (C) There were a number of theories on why the LTTE may have chosen to hit Fonseka at this time, Gill said. One popular supposition tags Fonseka as the architect behind setting up LTTE nemesis Karuna and his cadres in the east. (Comment: Some contacts, including in the GSL, say the Indian Government is behind Karuna. Following the first round of talks in Geneva, the Indians, alone among our diplomatic interlocutors, interpreted the GSL's post-dialogue commitments as ensuring a reduction in violence, rather than as an undertaking to disarm Karuna paramilitaries. Recent conversations with Indian diplomats in which they mention Karuna as an emerging political force to counter LTTE influence in the east track closely with comments on the same subject we have heard from GSL military officers. We think this ""Karuna as an evolving democratic politician"" theme falls into the category of wishful thinking--especially since we haven't heard it from any Tamils who actually live in the east. End comment.) Others speculate that Fonseka may have planning an operation against the LTTE. Whether these theories have any truth or not, Gill asserted, the suicide bombing attempt against Fonseka signifies the ""LTTE looking inward"" to demonstrate to its cadres and Tamil constituency that, far from growing soft during the ceasefire, the LTTE still can pull off a suicide bombing in the belly of the beast--Army Headquarters.
7. (C) The Indian Defense Minister called Rajapaksa on April 26, who assured him that the GSL remained committed to the Ceasefire Agreement, Gill reported. Indian High Commissioner Nirupama Rao had been in to see President Rajapaksa twice since the suicide bombing as well, and despite persistent rumors of possible further military operations, Rajapaksa had assured her that the GSL's retaliatory aerial and artillery strikes were over. Rajapaksa had explained to Rao that ""he
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had to do something"" after the bombing to keep up morale or risk riots and/or further communal violence, Gill added.
8. (C) For a representative of a government that remains ""hopeful"" that dialogue is still possible, Gill didn't sound all that optimistic. That is understandable, since getting from the current bleak situation to one where dialogue is possible means getting Rajapaksa to take a bold political ""leap"" that could alienate his hardline backers. Gill could offer little indication that his government has made much headway so far in encouraging such a move. The Indians seem to be on the same page with us in what they say about advancing the peace process--getting the President to fill in the details of a political solution to deflate LTTE claims that the GSL was ignoring Tamil aspirations--and working to cut off LTTE access to weapons and money.