Published On: Mon, Sep 5th, 2011

President shown photos of shelling civilians

Injured in Mullaitivu hospital (file photo: May 2009)
‘The Foreign Minister insisted that satellite images did not provide information needed to determine the source of fire,’ says the US embassy cable

 

US diplomats in Sri Lanka have shown satellite images of damage by shelling in “safe zone” even after the government announced ending heavy artillery and aerial bombing, according to anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

Charge d’Affaires of the US embassy James R. Moore, has said that he showed the images to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona two weeks before the government declared its military victory over Tamil Tigers.

Sending a cable to the secretary of state, with a copy to the White House, Mr Moore says he took the opportunity to meet the president and Mr Kohona following a meeting Mr Rajapaksa had with donor co-chair ambassadors on 5 May 2009.

“The President maintained that Government forces have not been shelling into the “safe zone” since his April 27 statement announcing the end of heavy artillery and aerial bombing in this area,” the cable said.

President denies shelling

“The President further asserted there was no hospital in the area where the LTTE has claimed a hospital was shelled on May 2.”

Satellite images
Satellite images show clearance of camps for displaced people in Sri Lanka’s conflict zone

Foreign Secretary Kohona has also rejected the notion that security forces continue shelling civilians in the no fire zone declared by the president, as “such sporadic shelling would not serve any military objective.”

Mr Moore has had a meeting with Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama the previous day in which he has shown the minister two satellite images apparently taken on April 26 and 28 of the civilian “no-fire zone” showing probable artillery impact craters.

He has provided other satellite images and inquired about reports of Government shelling in the safe zone according to the cable.

India and US ‘watching’

The US official has also raised the issue of United Nations unofficial estimates that thousands of civilians were killed in the conflict since January, 2009 with the minister.

“Bogollagama replied (implying the LTTE had shelled its own positions) that the satellite images did not provide enough information to indicate the source of fire.”

Mr Moore in his assessment has expressed hope that the president may not be fully updated by the field commanders on the real situation in the ground but may be forced to a “possible change of the Sri Lankan Army’s conduct” after the meeting.

“The President remarked at lunch before this meeting that India had satellites and was monitoring the ground situation in Sri Lanka. It will now be equally clear to the Sri Lankan government that we are watching, too,” the cable said.

bbc sinhala

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WikiLeaks on meeting with president

US embassy cable – 09COLOMBO495
SRI LANKA: EMBASSY SHARES IMAGES OF SAFE ZONE WITH PRESIDENT
Identifier: 09COLOMBO495
Origin: Embassy Colombo
Created: 2009-05-05 14:03:00
Classification:
Tags: PREL PHUM MOPS PREF PTER CE

O 051403Z MAY 09
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9926
INFO AMEMBASSY ATHENS PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY DHAKA PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY OSLO PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY
AMCONSUL CHENNAI PRIORITY
AMCONSUL MUMBAI PRIORITY
AMCONSUL TORONTO PRIORITY
HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
WHITE HOUSE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L COLOMBO 000495

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/05/2019
TAGS: PREL, PHUM, MOPS, PREF, PTER, CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: EMBASSY SHARES IMAGES OF SAFE ZONE WITH
PRESIDENT

Classified By: Charge d’Affaires James R. Moore, for reasons 1.4
(b & d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: In a May 5 meeting with President Mahinda
Rajapaksa and Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona, Charge
provided satellite images taken since April 27 of new
shelling damage within the Government-designated “safe zone.”
The President maintained that Government forces have not
been shelling into the “safe zone” since his April 27
statement announcing the end of heavy artillery and aerial
bombing in this area. In a meeting with Foreign Minister
Bogollagama the previous day, Charge provided other satellite
images and inquired about reports of Government shelling in
the safe zone. The Foreign Minister insisted that satellite
images did not provide information needed to determine the
source of fire. End summary.

2. (C) On May 4, Charge met with Foreign Minister
Bogollagama to discuss reports that Government forces were
shelling into the Government-designated “safe zone” even
after the President’s April 27 declaration of the end of
combat operations. Charge presented two declassified
satellite images taken on April 26 and 28 of the civilian
“no-fire zone” showing probable artillery impact craters.
Referring to widely-circulated but unofficial UN estimates of
thousands of civilian deaths and injuries since late January
(which have elicited strongly-worded refutations by
Government officials), Charge noted that the U.S. is not in
position independently to verify numbers of civilian
casualties, but that it is clear there have been many.
Bogollagama replied (implying the LTTE had shelled its own
positions) that the satellite images did not provide enough
information to indicate the source of fire.

3. (C) On May 5, President Mahinda Rajapaksa held a meeting
of Co-Chair Ambassadors. Charge took the opportunity
afterwards to pull aside President Rajapaksa and Foreign
Secretary Palitha Kohona to share privately satellite images
released for this purpose by Department. The President noted
he had already seen the images Charge provided to the Foreign
Minister the previous day. Charge informed the President and
Foreign Secretary that he had been instructed to share these
satellite images with the Sri Lankan government. These
“before and after” satellite images dated April 27 through
May 3 document apparent shelling damage in the “safe zone”
even after the April 27 declaration by President Rajapaksa,
he noted. Charge stated that we were sharing the satellite
images in the hope the shelling would stop.

4. (C) Rajapaksa responded by saying that before government
forces occupied about half of the Government-designated
civilian safe zone, the LTTE did not allow civilians to enter
the southern end of the zone, as the LTTE had established
bases in that area. The President further asserted there was
no hospital in the area where the LTTE has claimed a hospital
was shelled on May 2. (Charge countered that it was a
makeshift facility.) Kohona noted (without specifying a
precise time frame) that government forces had indeed bombed
this area before unilaterally declaring it a safe zone
because there were LTTE “Sea Tiger” bases along that strip of
coast.

5. (C) The President then claimed that Government forces
would not shell civilian areas, confiding that the Army has
Deep Penetration Units (Tamil-speaking agents operating in
LTTE-controlled areas) within the safe zone who are
attempting to organize people to breach the LTTE earth berms
and allow civilians to escape. Rajapaksa stated that
casualty rates among Government forces have gone up because
they are not responding with heavy weapons to outgoing heavy
weapons fire from the LTTE. He commented that the military
believes the graves documented in the satellite images are
likely for LTTE cadres killed in action. Kohona added that
there was little reason for the Government continuing to
shell the safe zone, since “such sporadic shelling would not
serve any military objective.” He referred to an article on
the Defense Ministry website alleging that the LTTE had
staged photographs of the damage at the hospital.

6. (C) Charge inquired how the Government currently intended
to pursue the end game of its campaign against the Tigers.
Rajapaksa staed that Government forces will proceed slowly,
wthout proceeding to a final assault, believing tha they
could secure the surrender of the remainingLTTE combatants
within a few weeks. Rajapaksa insisted that the Government
does not plan, however, to give the LTTE any breathing room
to reorganize.

7. (C) COMMENT: At the beginning of the preceding meeting
with Co-Chair Ambassadors (septel), the President asked
Charge for an assessment of the current situation, noting
wryly, “you are probably better informed than I am.” Post
considers it possible that individual field commanders or the
Army command might have resorted to the use of heavy weapons
while protecting the Commander-in-Chief from this
information. Rajapaksa has been known to call individual
battlefield commanders in the past to ask for frank
assessments when he feels out of touch with ground realities.
While the senior officials we spoke with concerning the
satellite images conceded nothing, our effort still could
lead to the President conducting his own inquiries and a
possible change of the Sri Lankan Army’s conduct of the
battle in progress. The President remarked at lunch before
this meeting that India had satellites and was monitoring the
ground situation in Sri Lanka. It will now be equally clear
to the Sri Lankan government that we are watching, too.

MOORE

———————————————————

Wikileaks on shell attacks

C O N F I D E N T I A L COLOMBO 000252

SIPDIS

STATE FOR A/S BOUCHER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/05/2019
TAGS: PREL PTER PGOV CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: CO-CHAIR AMBASSADORS DISCUSS WAYS TO
PRESSURE GSL AND LTTE

Classified By: Ambassador Robert O. Blake, Jr. for reasons
1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (S) Summary: Ambassador hosted a meeting of Co-Chair
Ambassadors on March 5 to take
stock of actions since the February 3 Co-Chair statement and
consider what further actions we
should recommend to capitals. Ambassadors agreed not to
recommend an additional Co-Chair
statement at this time since the GSL is responding to some,
but not all, our concerns. With
respect to high-level visits, the EU reported that the GSL
has agreed to an EU Troika visit at the
Deputy Foreign Minister level during the week of March 23-27.
We further agreed to recommend
that Ambassadors from countries with significant Tamil
Diaspora communities meet to coordinate
messaging to the Tamil Diaspora to, among other things to
bring additional pressure to bear on the
LTTE to release the civilians trapped in the north. End
Summary.

Situation Update

¶2. (C) Ambassador opened by summarizing a meeting (reported
septel) he and USAID Director Cohn
had the previous day with Basil Rajapaksa, the GSL’s Senior
Coordinator for all humanitarian issues.
In response to the Ambassador’s concerns about the first
credible reports of possible starvation in the
safe zone in the north, Rajapaksa undertook to arrange an
immediate delivery of an additional 200 metric
tons of food by the end of March 6 and to work with the WFP
to schedule more regular shipments. He
also reported that the Government is arranging to bring a
larger ship from Colombo equipped with a crane
that will make possible the transport of greater quantities
of food and more efficient off-loading. Rajapaksa
reported that the ICRC delivered a shipment of medicine to
the safe zone earlier in the week, but Ambassador
noted there are still shortages. Rajapaksa was not as
forthcoming to the Ambassador’s concerns about
credible reports of shelling of the safe zone on several
successive days recently. Rajapaksa lamely pointed
out that GSL forces had come under fire from LTTE artillery
within the safe zone and they had to defend
themselves. Ambassador pointed out such retaliatory shelling
had killed many civilians and was a reversal
of the government’s own commitment not to use heavy weapons.
The Norwegian Ambassador commented
that in two recent meetings with Rajapkasa he acknowledged
military forces were shelling into the safe zone,
but was not comfortable discussing the subject.

Tactics to Bring Pressure to Bear on Both Sides

¶3. (C) Turning to tactics to help achieve our objectives with
both sides, Ambassador asked whether a new
Co-Chair statement issued in Colombo might prove helpful to
emphasize our concern about the shelling of
civilians, insufficient food and medical supplies, and the
need for the LTTE to release civilians. The EU
argued that capitals should issue a strong, coordinated
statement to express our strong concern about the
potential humanitarian “catastrophe.” The Japanese and
Norwegian Ambassadors argued that the
government was making an effort to respond to most of our
humanitarian concerns with the exception of its
recent shelling of the safe zone. They argued that a
critical public statement now might set back Basil’s
efforts to provide more food. Ambassadors agreed to
continue to individually deliver strong messages
directly to the government on the major humanitarian
concerns. Ambassadors agreed we should defer
consideration of a joint statement until the middle of next
week to gauge GSL sincerity in delivering food
supplies.

Troika Visit

¶4. (C) Noting that the last high-level Co-Chair visit had
been by Japanese Special Envoy Akashi in January,
Ambassador asked whether we should try to organize more
regular senior level visits to keep up pressure

on the GSL and highlight publicly our concerns. The EU
Charge reported that the GSL has agreed to a EU
Troika visit at the Deputy Foreign Minister level sometime
during the March 23-27 time period. Ambassadors
agreed this would be sufficient for the near term, given the
recent visit by UN U/SYG Holmes.

Pressuring the LTTE

¶5. (C) The Norwegian Ambassador reviewed Norway’s quiet
diplomatic efforts to pressure the LTTE to release
these civilians trapped in the north. He reported several
recent contacts with the LTTE in which he argued that
under international humanitarian law they are required to
allow civilians to leave the conflict area. He told the
LTTE that Norway’s highest priority is saving as many lives
as possible. He emphasized that the LTTE must
lay down arms. The LTTE acknowledged that they face military
defeat, but did not indicate that they were
prepared to lay down their arms. The LTTE has made clear to
Norway that they do not see outright surrender
as an option. Ambassador added that U.S. and others have
been active in working with the Tamil Bishops,
NGOs, and some in the Tamil Diaspora to request that they use
their influence with the LTTE to persuade
them to release the civilians. Ambassador also suggested it
would be useful for the Ambassadors of countries
with significant Tamil Diaspora communities to meet in
Colombo to coordinate messages to our respective
Diasporas. The Co-Chairs agreed this was a useful
suggestion. The Canadian Ambassador has agreed to
host such a meeting within the next week, to include
representatives from Canada, Australia, the U.S.,
Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, the U.K., Germany, France, and
Italy.
BLAKE

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