Colombo Telegraph

WikiLeaks: Why The Tamil Diaspora Is Not Returning To The Country – Butenis Gives A Reason

“Following on Assistant Secretary Blake’s January 29 meeting with the Sri Lankan charge d’affaires in Washington (reftel), Ambassador Butenis requested and held a meeting on January 31 with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Bogollagama to raise U.S. concerns regarding Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) harassment of presidential candidate Fonseka, raids and threats against independent media, and an article published on the MOD website by Sri Lankan UN PermRep Kohona falsely allegedly that Secretary Clinton had orchestrated a sanctions campaign against Sri Lanka in the UN Security Council. Bogollagama denied the Kohona article was the GSL position and promised to look into it, largely ignored the press-freedom issue, and offered vague excuses why the GSL treatment of Fonseka was not harassment but promised he would be given due process. ‘The Government of Sri Lanka will not harass anyone,” he asserted, noting they did not want a situation “where the whole world again is criticizing us.'” the US Embassy Colombo informed Washington.

Butenis

The Colombo Telegraph found the related leaked cable from the WikiLeaks database. The cable was written on February 01, 2010  by the US Ambassador to Colombo, Patricia A. Butenis.

Ambassador Butenis wrote; “On the recent report of government harassment of the media after the election, Ambassador pointed out that raids and threats had been escalating against MTV and other independent media outlets and that for a president who had just claimed such a resounding victory, the press should be able to operate freely. The GSL’s current treatment of the press, however, made the president look weak and defensive. Such actions sent the signal that people with different views were un-welcome in Sri Lanka — which was a reason why the Tamil diaspora was not returning to the country to assist the re-development effort, as the GSL hoped they would do, and as Bogollagama had earlier complained about.”

Read the cable below for further details;

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 000076 

SIPDIS 

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INSB 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/31/2020 
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF PHUM PTER EAID MOPS CE
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR RAISES POST-ELECTION CONCERNS WITH 
FOREIGN MINISTER 

REF: SECSTATE 9654 

COLOMBO 00000076  001.2 OF 002 

Classified By: AMBASSADOR PATRICIA A. BUTENIS.  REASONS: 1.4 (B, D) 

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Following on Assistant Secretary Blake's 
January 29 meeting with the Sri Lankan charge d'affaires in 
Washington (reftel), Ambassador Butenis requested and held a 
meeting on January 31 with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister 
Bogollagama to raise U.S. concerns regarding Government of 
Sri Lanka (GSL) harassment of presidential candidate Fonseka, 
raids and threats against independent media, and an article 
published on the MOD website by Sri Lankan UN PermRep Kohona 
falsely allegedly that Secretary Clinton had orchestrated a 
sanctions campaign against Sri Lanka in the UN Security 
Council.  Bogollagama denied the Kohona article was the GSL 
position and promised to look into it, largely ignored the 
press-freedom issue, and offered vague excuses why the GSL 
treatment of Fonseka was not harassment but promised he would 
be given due process.  "The Government of Sri Lanka will not 
harass anyone," he asserted, noting they did not want a 
situation "where the whole world again is criticizing us." 
END SUMMARY. 

GENERAL FONSEKA 
--------------- 

¶2. (C) Ambassador noted that since the January 26 election, 
President Rajapaksa had made statements on reaching out to 
the opposition and on his victory as a victory for all Sri 
Lankans, but the treatment General Fonseka was receiving by 
the GSL appeared to be harassment or pay-back.  Whether there 
were charges against Fonseka was not the business of the U.S. 
 But Ambassador pointed out that if any charges were brought 
against him or he was imprisoned, we expected such actions 
would only be undertaken in full compliance with Sri Lankan 
law.  She also pressed for Fonseka's family to be allowed to 
leave Sri Lanka. 

¶3. (C) FM Bogollagama pressed for more specifics on Fonseka's 
harassment, which Ambassador proceeded to provide.  She 
started with the surrounding of Fonseka's hotel the day after 
the election day by military troops under the pretext of a 
search for deserters (Fonseka claimed his private security 
were retired military); noted that while the government said 
Fonseka was free to leave the hotel, it took all day before 
he was actually allowed to do so; and pointed out the 
difficulties Fonseka said he was having in getting his family 
out of the country.  Ambassador argued this all looked like 
persecution. 

MEDIA FREEDOM 
------------- 

¶4. (C) On the recent report of government harassment of the 
media after the election, Ambassador pointed out that raids 
and threats had been escalating against MTV and other 
independent media outlets and that for a president who had 
just claimed such a resounding victory, the press should be 
able to operate freely.  The GSL's current treatment of the 
press, however, made the president look weak and defensive. 
Such actions sent the signal that people with different views 
were un-welcome in Sri Lanka -- which was a reason why the 
Tamil diaspora was not returning to the country to assist the 
re-development effort, as the GSL hoped they would do, and as 
Bogollagama had earlier complained about. 

KOHONA ARTICLE 
-------------- 

¶5. (C) Ambassador passed to Bogollagama a copy of an article 

COLOMBO 00000076  002.4 OF 002 

by Sri Lankan UN PermRep Kohona that appeared on the MOD 
website, alleging that the U.S. and Secretary Clinton had led 
a campaign to influence the UN Security Council to impose 
sanctions on Sri Lanka.  Ambassador flatly denied this 
allegation and asked whether the article represented the 
position of the GSL.  She also pointedly remarked that while 
the U.S. was critical of Kohona's remarks, we were not 
insisting on shutting down any media outlets. 

BOGOLLAGAMA RESPONSES 
--------------------- 

¶6. (C) The Foreign Minister began with the Kohona article, 
noting that the GSL had never said the U.S. was behind the 
undermining of Sri Lanka.  The FM always had maintained good 
relations with the U.S., including during the fight with the 
LTTE, and relations must be kept "intact."  The view of the 
president, according to Bogollagama, was to be a friend to 
all and to want to enhance relations with the U.S.  He 
promised to look into the Kohona statement.  On press 
freedom, Bogollagama said little, except to refer vaguely to 
the value that the GSL placed on a liberal political 
environment in Sri Lanka. 

¶7. (C) On Fonseka, Bogollagama started off defensively, 
responding with vague references to the general's culpability 
if deserters were at the hotel, the fact that the hallways at 
the Cinnamon Lakeside had been "packed" that evening with 
un-registered guests, and a claim that during the subsequent 
police raid on Fonseka's office, un-registered motor vehicles 
were discovered.  But then he began to moderate his response, 
saying the family (mother and daughters but not Fonseka 
himself and the son-in-law, who faces separate investigation 
on corruption allegations) was free to leave Sri Lanka. 
(NOTE: Just after the meeting, Fonseka's office confirmed 
that the two daughters already had departed Sri Lanka for the 
U.S.; the general's wife had declined to leave her husband. 
END NOTE.)  Bogollagama claimed that unless there was 
evidence of wrong-doing, Fonseka would be left alone.  "The 
Government of Sri Lanka will not harass anyone," he asserted, 
noting they did not want a situation "where the whole world 
again is criticizing us."  He concluded by noting that 
Ambassador's points were well taken and "that's why we're 
working on them closely with the president's office." 
BUTENIS

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