“Experience in many civil conflicts around the world has shown that countries that don’t take adequate measures to address reconciliation and accountability frequently experience a regeneration of the insurgency that they faced. We could see very much that similar situation in Sri Lanka.” Thus spake President Barack Obama’s point man for South Asia, Robert Blake, the other day in an interview with the Associated Press. If the situation is so bad in Sri Lanka as Blake claims, why on earth has the US called for the withdrawal of military from the former war zone? Is it to facilitate the ‘regeneration of the insurgency’?
The above is quoted from the Editorial in The Island newspaper of March 15 called “Blake’s Doublespeak”.
It is nothing but a part of an ongoing hate campaign against the US and the international community. The Government of Sri Lanka and a Sri Lankan nationalist press has been misleading the public for ages. But the Island editor or anyone who really wants to understand what went on behind closed doors must read the leaked US diplomatic cables. If you read them you can understand what the US and the international community really thought and did. None of the cables suggest that they helped the LTTE.
I would like to look at WikiLeaks cables as a much more potent challenge to powers that be as well as to journalists. As Charlie Becket, wrote in his book “WikiLeaks – News in the Networked Era”, our understanding of the nature of war and diplomacy has been enhanced. Journalism’s role as the provider of the first draft of history has deepened. So friends, let us read some cables that Blake wrote.
Just one month before the end of the bloody war, on April 17, 2009, Blake wrote; “Ambassador warned the Minister that if the government pursued a military option without first allowing high-level diplomacy a chance, Sri Lanka could expect escalating international criticism and actions to demonstrate the international community’s concern. The Ambassador said such actions could include suspension of aid to Sri Lanka, closer scrutiny of IMF lending, possible war crimes investigations, and perhaps other actions. EU Head of Mission Savage echoed the Ambassador’s comments, noting the importance of Sri Lanka protecting civilians and giving the LTTE an opportunity to surrender. He said the loss of civilian lives from ongoing military operations would be a humanitarian and public relations disaster for Sri Lanka ‘which would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.’ Indian High Commissioner Prasad agreed and referred to a very tough statement the Indian Foreign Ministry had issued earlier in the day. He said there is ‘extreme concern’ in India about civilian casualties. India did not see why further military action was necessary at this time and supports a humanitarian pause.”
“The Foreign Minister assured Prasad that Sri Lanka is sensitive to Indian and other concerns, but repeated that a pause would only give oxygen to the LTTE. He said Sri Lanka needed the help of the Tamil Diaspora to persuade the LTTE to release its civilians. Ambassador briefed the minister on the results of the meeting Assistant Secretary Boucher had hosted with American Diaspora representatives. He explained that the Diaspora had rejected U.S. calls for them to urge the release of civilians.”
“The President voiced strong opposition to a possible UN role in negotiating a humanitarian pause or a surrender by the LTTE, asking, ‘how can the UN consider having contact with a terrorist organization?’ He categorically ruled out the possibility of the UN entering into negotiations directly with Prabhakaran.”
Mahinda Chinthanaya and the LTTE
Now friends, when the President asked that question; ‘how can the UN consider having contact with a terrorist organization?’ he himself forgot his own promises to the citizens of Sri Lanka. Read the 2005 election manifesto in which he says; “In the course of the consultative process, I shall initiate direct talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. I also intend to meet their leader and other representatives for such discussions. At such talks, I shall present the consensus reached to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.”
Going back to the cables, Blake wrote in the same cable; “The President’s hard line position is likely motivated in part by his need to play to his southern Sinhala political base in the elections for the Western Provincial Council that will take place later this month.”
“In the meantime, the international community must continue to pressure the GOSL to agree to a pause and cease military actions to allow diplomacy to work. It is also important that no public mention be made of a possible UN effort to release civilians, lest Sinhala nationalists seek to capitalize on the upcoming elections to force the GOSL to back down from even the limited concessions they have made.”
Diplomatic Efforts to Evacuate Civilians
In another cable on March 19, 2009, Blake wrote; “The USG in Colombo and Washington has been engaged in intensive efforts to protect the estimated 120-150,000 civilians presently trapped in the ‘safe-zone’ in northern Sri Lanka. We have pursued several tracks. First, we and other Co-Chair countries have called on the LTTE immediately to allow civilians freedom of movement.
The LTTE has not done so, instead it has shot civilians who have tried to escape, and engaged in forcible recruitment of progressively younger and older civilians to augment its diminishing cadre, now estimated by the government at 400-500. There is also growing evidence of civilian confrontations with the LTTE in the safe zone. Publicly the LTTE continues to insist that it is not safe for the civilians to be evacuated to ‘concentration camps’ in Vavuniya. UN U/SYG Holmes in his recent report to the UN Security Council following his visit to Sri Lanka rebutted the LTTE’s claim and stated that basic needs are being met, although clearly more needs to be done on several fronts (for example, reduce overcrowding and improve sanitation).”
“While we continue pressure on the LTTE, the U.S. and others have pressed the government not to respond to LTTE shelling emanating from the safe zone. Despite repeated assurances that it would not use heavy weapons or shell the safe zone, Sri Lankan Army continues to respond to LTTE shelling on almost a daily basis and has killed hundreds of civilians just in the last week. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a public statement on March 13 that more than 2800 civilians have been killed just since January 20. Lastly, we and others continue to press the government to allow in food and medicine for the civilians, who are completely dependent on such assistance. The government has done a much better job recently of allowing food in, but the Ministry of Defense continues to block all medical shipments leading to very high rates of mortality for civilians wounded by shelling.”
“A decision by the government to forcibly enter the safe zone to kill or capture the remaining LTTE cadres would have disastrous humanitarian consequences. Credible reporting suggests that the LTTE has prepared trenches and bunkers in the safe zone in anticipation of a long siege. Unless significant numbers of civilians can escape or be evacuated, thousands, or even tens of thousands, of civilians could be killed if the GSL tries to enter the safe zone forcibly.”
“In a meeting with the Foreign Minister on March 18, Ambassador expressed appreciation for the Defense Secretary’s repeated assurances that the GSL would not enter the safe zone forcibly. Nonetheless, the Ambassador noted that he was hearing credible reports that many in the military and elsewhere favor entering the safe zone and finishing off the conflict. The Ambassador warned the Minister that Sri Lanka needed to understand that the deaths of thousands or even tens of thousands of civilians from such an action would cause an international outcry, likely subject the GSL to war crime charges, and almost certainly undermine public support in the U.S. and other donor countries for future reconstruction efforts in the north. The Minister acknowledged these realities and reassured the Ambassador that the GSL has no intention of entering the safe zone forcibly.”
“The Government of Norway has been engaged in quiet efforts to persuade the LTTE to allow civilians in the safe zone to leave. (Note: Norwegian efforts must be strictly protected and not referred to either publicly or privately by USG officials with third country nationals.) The LTTE has responded to Norwegian overtures by insisting there should be a cease-fire and political negotiations to resolve the conflict. The LTTE has also raised numerous procedural and other questions about how the UN and ICRC might evacuate civilians, the treatment they would be subjected to in the camps in Vavuniya, and GSL plans to resettle them. The Norwegians have made clear that the time for a cease-fire to pursue political negotiations is now passed; they are only responding to LTTE questions regarding the treatment of civilians once they leave the North. These talks are unlikely to reach a satisfactory conclusion before mid-April. In addition, despite Norway’s good faith efforts, a recent leak to a nationalist newspaper suggests the Government is wary of Norway’s work in this matter and may be preparing the ground to undercut Norway.”
Blake Suggested a Plan
“It is clear, then, that the international community needs a plan now to evacuate as many of the civilians as possible. Mission recommends that Washington and USUN consider the following approach. The USG should ask the UN Secretary General to issue a public statement calling on both sides to allow a humanitarian pause in fighting for civilians who want to leave. The LTTE maintains the fiction that civilians do not want to leave. As noted above, all evidence points to the contrary. The UN needs to call the LTTE’s bluff. The SYG could reassure civilians they will be well treated, recalling Holmes, late February statement to the UN Security Council. To give added credibility to his assurances, the UN should coordinate in advance with the GSL so the SYG can announce that the GSL has invited UN Special Rapporteur for IDP Issues Walter Kaelin to work with GSL to resolve remaining issues in the camps. It is important the initiative be cast as a GSL proposal given the GSL’s stiff-arming of Special Envoys proposed by the UK and others. Kaelin already has extensive experience in Sri Lanka and would be well suited to this job.”
“The obvious challenge is to get the LTTE’s agreement to this plan. The ICRC confirmed to Embassy Colombo that their staff in the safe zone could develop a mechanism to determine which of the civilians want to leave. If the LTTE refuses to cooperate, the UN must then be prepared to say so publicly. Such an announcement would likely cause the LTTE significant problems with the Tamil Diaspora, who have supported the LTTE thus far and whom the LTTE is counting on to help finance the reconstitution of the LTTE once fighting is over in the North. The Diaspora remains very concerned about the plight of the civilians and would likely help the UN pressure the LTTE to allow those civilians to leave who want to. (Septel will offer thoughts on ways the USG can do more to reach out to the Tamil Diaspora in the U.S. both to respond to their mail campaigns and engage them directly.) Ambassador has discussed the outlines of this proposal with the UN, ICRC and Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, all of whom believe it is worth trying. It is clear the LTTE will not let all of the civilians go because the civilians serve as human shields and as a pool for conscription. But even if we can evacuate two-thirds of the civilians, that would mark significant progress.”
Does all this sound as if the US and the international community wanted to save the LTTE? What stuff and nonsense.