Cablegate: Usaid Staff Discuss Working Level Issues with Ltte

Published: Fri 3 Oct 2003 06:02 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: STATE 256563
1. (SBU) Per recent State Department guidance
approving operational/working level discussions with
counterpart LTTE representatives (reftel) and based
on a September 18 meeting between the Embassy's front
office and USAID Sri Lanka staff, on September 29 and
30 two USAID staff held meetings with LTTE officials
in Jaffna and Kilinochchi to discuss specific issues
related to USAID grant implementation in Jaffna. The
meetings were cordial, did not stray from the
specific operational issues at hand, and resulted in
a clear understanding about how USAID's Office of
Transition Initiatives (OTI) will move forward on
grant implementation in Jaffna. USAID also tried to
schedule an appointment with the LTTE in Trincomalee
to introduce the OTI head of office there to local
LTTE representatives. This meeting did not happen,
however, due to the absence of the designated LTTE
official in Trincomalee. END SUMMARY.
2. (SBU) To date OTI has been constrained from
implementing grants in Jaffna due to the LTTE's
direct taxation of local Jaffna businesses and an
existing tariff system on goods being transported on
the A9 highway through the Vanni. This is an LTTE-
controlled area that links the Jaffna Peninsula with
government-controlled areas to the south. USAID has
been aware of the existence of a tax-exempt system
for donors and other international organizations
routing goods up the A9. Until the recent State
Department guidance, USAID was unable to talk
directly with the LTTE to get this needed tax-exempt
status. USAID attempted to obtain such a waiver via
the GSL government agent (GA) in Jaffna, but this
process proved to be opaque and slow.
3. (SBU) With Embassy clearance, the USAID/OTI Sri
Lanka country representative and the USAID Sri Lanka
special projects officer, joined by a local staff who
handles Jaffna for OTI, flew to Jaffna on September
29 for a scheduled meeting with the LTTE. The team
first visited the GA in Jaffna to thank him for his
attempts to expedite the movement of USAID goods up
the A9 highway and to inform him about the planned
meeting with the LTTE. The USAID staff then drove to
the LTTE office in Jaffna in a clearly marked
diplomatic vehicle.
4. (SBU) The USAID staff were met by Mr. Emayavan,
who introduced himself in English as the office's
"liaison officer." [note: the USAID staff had been
told the previous week, when setting up a meeting
over the phone from Colombo, that Mr. Emayavan is
affiliated with the Jaffna NGO consortium and would
join the scheduled meeting with Mr. Eelampadavi, head
of the LTTE's Jaffna representative office. End
note]. Though Mr. Emayavan offered his services as a
translator, the USAID special projects officer, who
speaks Tamil, led the conversation at the OTI country
representative's request.
5. (SBU) For the official meeting, Mr. Chemanan, the
deputy LTTE representative for Jaffna district, led
from the LTTE side. He explained in Tamil that Mr.
Eelampadavi had been called to Kilinochchi for an
urgent meeting and sent his apologies for being
absent. USAID staff introduced themselves by
presenting business cards and describing USAID as a
U.S. government organization with a program in Sri
Lanka supporting rehabilitation and development
projects in various parts of the island, including
Jaffna. The USAID staff mentioned a few of the
activities USAID has funded in Jaffna such as
rebuilding war-damaged schools in Chavakachcheri,
rehabilitating a chicken farm in Varani, and
providing boats and nets to fishermen in Karainager
6. (SBU) Mr. Chemanan was attentive to the
conversation and responded by saying that USAID's
work, as described, was "very important for the
people of Jaffna.we are glad you are here." He
continued by saying that the LTTE would make every
effort to cooperate and support USAID in any way
possible. With that invitation, the conversation
shifted to the subject of taxation, specifically as
it applied to the supplies USAID needs for projects
in Jaffna. After USAID staff laid out the need to
have a tax-free arrangement for moving goods up the
A9, Mr. Chemanan said emphatically that the LTTE
would not tax any of USAID's projects in Jaffna, "no
matter how many hundreds of thousands of rupees" were
involved. This response was in line with USAID's
understanding of the LTTE's current policy regarding
supplies moved into Jaffna for rehabilitation and
development work by any international agency.
7. (SBU) The hour-long meeting ended with Mr.
Chemanan suggesting that the USAID staff meet with
the LTTE's NGO coordinator in Kilinochchi, Mr.
Thiyagarajah, to make arrangements for tax-free
transport of supplies to Jaffna. He agreed to call
ahead to schedule a meeting early in the afternoon.
Furthermore, he suggested that USAID return to Jaffna
some time in the future to talk with Mr. Eelampadavi.
No firm commitments were made, but USAID staff
expressed their interest in continuing the
conversation regarding operational issues related to
USAID programming in Jaffna.
8. (SBU) USAID staff left Jaffna and proceeded to
Kilinochchi along the A9 highway, a two-hour journey.
The LTTE political wing and civil administration
complex there is a series of mostly new, one-story
buildings along a dirt road on the east side of the
A9 highway just north of the Kilinochchi town center.
A fence of barbed wire and metal sheeting, well over
head high, obstructs the view from the road.
9. (SBU) The USAID vehicle stopped in front of the
political wing headquarters, where an unarmed young
man in what seemed to be a gunmetal blue LTTE police
uniform was posted near an alley. USAID staff
greeted him in Tamil, introduced themselves with
business cards and asked for Mr. Thiyagarajah. With
a smile, the man escorted the USAID staff down an
alley to a civil administration office. At that
office the USAID staff were greeted by another
English-speaking "liaison officer," a retired civil
servant from the department of health in Trincomalee.
10. (SBU) Mr. Thiyagarajah soon joined the group and
was extremely cordial from the outset. With the
USAID special projects officer facilitating the
meeting in Tamil, USAID staff gave the same cursory
introduction and explanation of USAID as given in
Jaffna. As in Jaffna, there was no mention of USAID's
inability to work in LTTE-controlled areas, and Mr.
Thiyagarajah did not ask. He explained that he was
the head of the LTTE's "INGO coordination office,"
which is part of the organization's civil
administration. His job is to interface with
representatives from INGOs, which it appeared he
assumed us to be, and handle matters like the one
being discussed - taxation of goods for
rehabilitation and development projects.
11. (SBU) USAID staff gave him a brief overview of
current projects in Jaffna and explained that USAID
did not pay taxes to the Sri Lankan government for
supplies procured as part of its assistance
activities, and it could not by U.S. law pay such
taxes for supplies being transported through the
Vanni. USAID staff did not offer any more details,
and Mr. Thiyagarajah never pushed the issue. "I
understand," he said, smiling. In terms of a system
for waiving LTTE taxes, Mr. Thiyagarajah said that it
would be possible to get such a waiver but that it
would have to be on a shipment-by-shipment basis, as
is the case with other INGOs and international
agencies. He explained exactly how the system works
and clarified a number of questions asked by the
USAID staff. Essentially the INGO coordination
office clears a list of items for individual grants
and then routes the list to the LTTE customs officer
for a signature. The process is straightforward
though it requires someone on the USAID side to walk
the paperwork through the system. It can be done in
one day.
12. (SBU) On September 30 the USAID/OTI Sri Lanka
country representative, the USAID Sri Lanka special
projects officer, and the USAID/OTI head of office in
Trincomalee went to the LTTE Trinco office for a
meeting that had been requested by letter after much
difficulty in getting any commitment over the phone.
While the Jaffna and Kilinochchi meetings revolved
around a clear discussion on a particular operational
issue, the Trincomalee meeting was deemed necessary
in order to brief the local LTTE office about
USAID/OTI's new office in Trincomalee and planned
activities in the area. The meeting was also
intended as a way to introduce the USAID/OTI Trinco
head of office to the LTTE and to clearly state that
issues related to the OTI program in Trincomalee
should be addressed to her as opposed to any of OTI's
local staff.
12. (SBU) Despite numerous efforts to confirm the
Trinco meeting, upon arrival at the LTTE office the
USAID staff were informed that the LTTE
representative, Mr. Thilak, was not in town and that
no one else in the office was authorized to meet with
official visitors. The USAID staff left business
cards and stated that the meeting could be arranged
at a later date.
13. (SBU) It turned out that Mr. Thilak was in fact
in Trincomalee, and shortly after the USAID staff
left to return for Colombo he called the USAID/OTI
Trincomalee office to say that he was available to
meet immediately. He was extremely apologetic about
any miscommunication over the planned meeting and
offered to come to the USAID/OTI office immediately
to meet. Unfortunately by the time the USAID/OTI
office staff was able to inform the USAID Sri Lanka
staff via mobile phone, they were too far out of
Trinco to return. USAID/OTI Trincomalee informed Mr.
Thilak that the meeting would need to be rescheduled.
In all likelihood the meeting will take place
sometime during the week of October 6.
15. (SBU) The most lasting impression from the
exchanges at several LTTE offices was that the LTTE
was open to the type of working-level discussions
directly related to projects in government-controlled
areas of the north and east that USAID initiated
through this trip. People were extremely cordial and
welcoming, probably partly due to the fact that from
the onset the meetings were conducted in Tamil and on
the USAID side there was an American Tamil speaker
who has long years of experience in different parts
of Sri Lanka. It also seemed clear that the LTTE
interlocutors were not fully aware of the
significance of these conversations for USAID Sri
Lanka and the larger USG presence in the country -
i.e. the first operational level engagement since the
LTTE was placed on the list of FTOs.
16. (SBU) Contributing to this impression was the
likelihood that the LTTE interlocutors, despite
seeing a vehicle with diplomatic plates and being
presented with official business cards, mistook the
USAID staff to be INGO personnel. The substance of
the conversations were strictly work related and
never pushed or pulled into the political arena. The
USAID staff did nothing to disabuse them of this
17. (SBU) The USAID special projects officer, who
had worked in the north of Sri Lanka with
international agencies from early 1994 through mid-
2002, was struck by the relaxed security atmosphere
of the LTTE political office in Jaffna and the
political-civil administration compound in
Kilinochchi. In stark contrast to the past, there
were almost no armed guards or sentries visible.
Civilian access to these places, particularly in
Jaffna, seemed much less restricted. This could
reflect a growing distinction between the military,
political and civil administration arms of the LTTE,
or at least the desire to have such boundaries
perceived, whether real or imagined.
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