Secret US Embassy Diplomatic Cable Says LTTE Blocked Civilians Leaving Battle Zone

Daya Gamage – Asian Tribune Foreign News Desk
Washington, DC. 09 September (Asiantribune.com):

 

The classified diplomatic cable sent from the American embassy in Sri Lanka under the signature of Ambassador Robert Blake to Washington state department dated 19 March 2009 very clearly said that the Tamil Tigers had refused to listen to Norway and other international community nations’ appeals to allow civilians to leave the battle zone “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.”

The classified cable released by the whistleblower network WikiLeaks further noted “(the Colombo US diplomatic) Mission recommends the USG ask the UNSecGen 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. All evidence points to the contrary: several civilians have been shot trying to escape, many others have escaped. We need to call the LTTE´s bluff.”

But the long-term projection of the Foreign Service professional in the Colombo’s American Embassy became absolutely wrong when the classified cable said “If the LTTE refuses to cooperate, the UN can say so publicly which would likely cause the LTTE significant problems with its paymasters in the Tamil Diaspora.”

With the total demise of Tamil Tigers a section of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora is seen actively engaged in reviving its leader Prabhakaran’s dream of a separate/independent eelam state in the north and east of Sri Lanka in getting a section of the international community nations and international rights organizations to tighten the noose on Sri Lanka on alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and violation of international humanitarian law (IHL). The Tamil-Diaspora funding stage has now entered the public diplomacy/strategic communication stage, a scenario Sri Lanka is still unable to internationally combat.

The Robert Blake-signed diplomatic cable was clearly accusing the LTTE for the plight of the civilians who were eager to leave the battle zone and the safe zone saying:

(Quote) 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 clais 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). (End Quote)

In this 19 March 2009 US Embassy diplomatic cable says, exactly two months before the total defeat of the LTTE, responding to the LTTE call for a ceasefire and political negotiations “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.”

It was clear to the Foreign Service Officers of the American Embassy in Sri Lanka that the only measure available in March 2009 was the safe movement of the civilians hoarded by the LTTE as a human shield and not a political solution; not even a ceasefire.

The cable said:

(Begin Quote) 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. (End Quote)

The American Embassy in Colombo in March 2009 dismissed both a ceasefire and political negotiations. The interest turned to the safe departure of civilians held by the LTTE as human shield. The Robert Blake-initiated cable to Washington was very clear that the Government of Sri Lanka had no option but to emancipate the civilians from the clutches of the LTTE which Sri Lanka eventually termed it as a ‘humanitarian operation’.

The final two paragraphs of the classified diplomatic cable was self explanatory:

(Quote) 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 (meaning separate telegram) 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. (End Quote)

– Asian Tribune –

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