By Colombo Telegraph
“On human rights and media freedom problems, Vitharana instantly became offensive, and regretted that the international community did not understand the situation on the ground. He praised the President as being ‘admirable’ on improved relations with countries such as Iran, Libya and China when the west was so weak now economically speaking” the US Embassy wrote to Washington.
“He thanked the U.S. for pushing Sri Lanka closer to China which represented the economic future.” The US Embassy further informed to Washington.
A leaked US unclassified, but “SENSITIVE” diplomatic cable, recounts details of meetings the US Senate Foreign Relations staff members has had with the senior government officials, international organizations, political leaders, civil-society activists, and journalists between November 2-8, 2009. The Colombo Telegraph found the cable from WikiLeaks database. The cable was written on December 1, 2009 by the US Ambassador to Colombo Patricia A. Butenis.
The US Ambassador wrote “ The StaffDel met Minister of Science and Technology and All-Party Representative Committee (APRC) Chairman Tissa Vitharana, who emphasized the need for sustaining peace, working towards a political solution and empowering the people. The key goal of APRC was permit the devolution of powers to the provinces under the 13th Amendment. He informed the StaffDel that the APRC had submitted its assessment report to President Rajapaksa and was awaiting the Presidents response and comments.” “ Vitharana criticized the 13th Amendment as an Indian creation, but found some useful elements in the 17th Amendment. His goal was to simplify and streamline the government, giving more power to traditional village councils. This would give proper representation to small ethnic enclaves scattered throughout the country. He commented on his recent meetings with diaspora representatives in Europe as prat of his work with ethnic community.” she further wrote.
The Colombo Telegraph publishes the relevant part of the leaked cable below.
VZCZCXRO5326 PP RUEHBI DE RUEHLM #1054/01 3270240 ZNR UUUUU ZZH P 230240Z NOV 09 FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0805 INFO RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 2075 RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 9103 RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 7345 RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 5246 RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 3500 RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO 5184 RUEHSM/AMEMBASSY STOCKHOLM 0719 RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 4299 RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 9666 RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 6960 RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO 0040 RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 3842 RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 06 COLOMBO 001054 SENSITIVE SIPDIS DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INSB E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM CE SUBJECT: SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE (SFRC) FACT FINDING MISSION TO SRI LANKA ¶1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On November 2-8, Senate Foreign Relations staff members Nilmini Rubin and Fatema Sumar visited Sri Lanka and held meetings with senior government officials, international organizations, political leaders, civil-society activists, and journalists to discuss post war reconciliation, resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs), the humanitarian situation, and media freedom. They also visited the South, East and IDP camp at Manik Farm. The StaffDel observed that the post-war situation in Sri Lanka was complex, particularly in light of possible elections; Sri Lankans no longer sensed a strong partnership with the U.S.; the U.S. "tool box" in dealing with the government of Sri Lanka (GSL) was self-limited; a sense of palpable fear still hung over the media and civil society; and while the GSL was making progress and doing some good things, SL had a long way to go on reconciliation and resettlement. Recognizing SL's geo-strategic importance to the U.S. and the current and long-term bilateral relationship, many SL interlocutors gave their recommendations on strengthening the relationship and noted a need for more U.S. assistance for resettlement and demining. END SUMMARY. PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR: CRITICISMS NOT WARRANTED ------------------------ ¶2. (SBU) The president's brother, MP, and de-facto czar of the IDP and demining issues Basil Rajapaksa hoped to improve the bilateral relationship and build trust with the U.S. He was critical of recent U.S. remarks and recommended that the U.S. should choose its words carefully. For example, he noted that "the U.S. monitoring the progress" was perceived as "U.S. encroachment on SL's sovereignty." While Sri Lanka was a small but proud country, SL did not warrant a "minority mindset". He suggested that the U.S. should approach SL as "friends" and "give suggestions rather than make critical remarks," and such criticisms were a recent phenomenon. In response to the "incident's report," Rajapaksa candidly remarked, "I'm not saying we're clean; we could not abide by international law - this would have gone on for centuries, an additional 60 years." He highlighted the GSL's excellent relationship with India, and argued that even India did not request monitoring of SL's progress. Basil spoke at length on the resettlement progress and noted that January 31 ends the 180-day plan, and that the GSL had promised to have 80% of the IDPs released in 180 days, but that "Blake had said our plan was too ambitious." He asserted that 80% of the IDPs would be released by the end of January. He did not want to release details of the government's plan because any delays or changes would leave the GSL open to international criticism. Basil believed SL was well on its way "to win the hearts and minds of the people" and to resettle the IDPs. On freedom of movement, the GSL was still concerned about LTTE sympathizers in the camps and took a paternal view of the safety of IDPs returning to cleared lands. On media freedom, Basil argued that the media had not been singled out, and that high ranking police and army officials and members of the business community had also been imprisoned on the terrorism charges. On media access to the camps, Rajapaksa emphasized that media restrictions in the camps were for the benefit of the IDPs and commented that "IDPs don't like media, cameras, because they don't want to be portrayed in those conditions." He pointed out that free access would be only granted to those "genuinely interested" and only those "that could be truly trusted." DEFENSE SECRETARY: NO RECOGNITION OF GSL'S PROGRESS ----------------------------- ¶3. (SBU) Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa expressed frustration that the U.S. and international community had not recognized the government's progressive transition to democracy, ethnic reconciliation, disarmament and demobilization of paramilitary groups, rehabilitation of child soldiers, and economic development. He repeatedly used the Eastern Province as an example of the government's demonstrated performance record and as a model for COLOMBO 00001054 002 OF 006 plans in the North. He regretted that SL was "poor at propaganda" and had done a poor job communicating its actions and intent to the international community, especially the U.S. and the West. While quick to criticize, the U.S. had been slow to acknowledge SL's achievements. Rajapaksa believed strongly in the value of repairing SL's relations with the U.S. and recommended that the U.S. should focus its attention on the future and not the past, judging the GSL on its record of performance in the Eastern Province, and not on the agendas of its critics. Rajapaksa reiterated SL's real victory over the LTTE and contended that lasting peace would only be achieved by development in the North. Rajapaksa noted that in defeating the LTTE terrorists the war had "not been clean," but was still a success. The Defense Secretary ruled out expansion of the military - dismissing it as "only the army talking" - and said he hoped to increase SL military's involvement in future UN peacekeeping operations. According to Rajapaksa, the increases in the defense budget were meant to meet payment schedules for acquisitions during the war from China, Pakistan and Israel. The Defense Secretary took the opportunity to apologize to the staffers for involving them in a security incident at their hotel room the night before. The incident occurred when they received a surprise visit to one of their rooms by Sri Lankan plain clothes police. The police, acting on orders to investigate an anonymous tip that room 1603 (staffer's room) was harboring a terrorist, reacted by going directly to the room (not alerting the hotel) to investigate. The Defense Secretary explained that he had personally received this tip; had he known that the staffers were the occupants of the room 1603, he would have prevented the incident. While the Defense Secretary apologized for the incident, it demonstrated heightened security concerns and lack of an adequate information-screening process by the police and the Defense Secretary. JUSTICE MINISTER: "GOLDEN MOMENT" BUT "COMPLEX" --------------------------------- ¶4. (SBU) Minister of Justice Malinda Moragoda told StaffDel the GSL was very interested in greater engagement with the U.S. but said the political situation was "complex." According to Moragoda, there was much resentment towards the old families and elites in Sri Lanka amongst the Sinhalese middle and lower classes for past economic focus on Colombo and appeasement of the LTTE, and some of this resentment spilled over into GSL relations with the U.S. and other western countries. Nevertheless, with the end of the war, Sri Lanka was at a "golden moment" for building national reconciliation. StaffDel suggested that an independent investigation of war crimes allegations was a necessary step in national healing and reconciliation. Moragoda said Sri Lanka "must find its own way" on dealing with the war crimes issue and noted "frankly" that while the panel of eminent persons recently appointed by the president was a reaction to the publication of the Congressional report on incidents during the war, Sri Lanka had a regrettably long history of periodic violence and so the publication of the State Department's report to Congress on incidents during the war had little relevance to most Sri Lankans. APRC CHAIRMAN: EMPOWER THE PEOPLE --------------------------------- ¶5. (SBU) The StaffDel met Minister of Science and Technology and All-Party Representative Committee (APRC) Chairman Tissa Vitarana, who emphasized the need for sustaining peace, working towards a political solution and empowering the people. The key goal of APRC was permit the devolution of powers to the provinces under the 13th Amendment. He informed the StaffDel that the APRC had submitted its assessment report to President Rajapaksa and was awaiting the President's response and comments. Vitarana criticized the 13th Amendment as an Indian creation, but found some useful elements in the 17th Amendment. His goal was to simplify and streamline the government, giving more power to traditional village councils. This would give proper representation to small ethnic enclaves scattered COLOMBO 00001054 003 OF 006 throughout the country. He commented on his recent meeting with diaspora representatives in Europe as part of his work with ethnic community. On human rights and media freedom problems, Vitarana instantly became defensive, and regretted that the international community did not understand the situation on the ground. He praised the President as being "admirable" on improved relations with countries such as Iran, Libya and China when the West wouldn't help them finish the war against the LTTE, since the West was so weak now economically speaking. He thanked the U.S. for pushing Sri Lanka closer to China which represented the economic future. BUTENIS