Published On: Sat, Oct 15th, 2011

WikiLeaks – Fonseka tried to escape the country

“Fonseka told the Ambassador that he wanted to travel to Singapore with his family, but that the government had placed him on a blacklist banning him from international travel, and that he understood his family was also on the list.” the US ambassador wrote to Washington.

I want to fly

A leaked US diplomatic cable details the situation just after the 2010 Presidential election. The cable classified as “CONFIDENTIAL” and written by the US ambassador Patricia A. Butenis on 28th January 2010.

US ambassador spoke to Gen. Sarath Fonseka on January 28 and she wrote to Washington “Fonseka said that if were to get Singapore, he planned to stay there for awhile to assess the situation, while his family was likely to travel on to the United States. The Ambassador raised the issue of Fonseka’s travel with Pereis, who said that Fonseka would not have immunity from criminal prosecution if he faced any formal charges, noting that he had no knowledge of any such charges.”

Fonseka spoke several times with the Ambassador on the evening of January 27, expressing deep concerns about his personal security, noting his government – provided security details was to end at midnight. The Ambassador attempted to contact Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to urge the details be extended, but could not reach him. Fonseka also called the State Department Operation Center twice, trying to reach the Secretary on the same subject. On January 28, Ranil Wickremasinghe told Poloff that President Rajapaksa had informed him that morning that Fonseka would be provided with security at the level of a former Army Commander. Also on January 28, Minister GL Pereis told the Ambassador that a 65 person details had been provided to Fonseka by Supreme Court order as long as he was a candidate.

Read the full cable below for further details;

VZCZCXRO0332
OO RUEHAG RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHLM # 0065/01 0281244
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 281244Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1178
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA PRIORITY 2312
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD PRIORITY 9334
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 7589
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 5411
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 3749
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO PRIORITY 5336
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA PRIORITY 0197
RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID PRIORITY 0151
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 4458
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI PRIORITY 9897
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI PRIORITY 7184
RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO PRIORITY 0192
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 0039
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 COLOMBO 000065

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INSB

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/27/2020
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF PHUM PTER EAID MOPS CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: ELECTIONS UPDATE NO. 15

REF: A. COLOMBO 62
¶B. COLOMBO 61
¶C. COLOMBO 59
¶D. COLOMBO 57
¶E. COLOMBO 53
¶F. COLOMBO 51
¶G. COLOMBO 48
¶H. COLOMBO 47
¶I. COLOMBO 46
¶J. COLOMBO 45
¶K. COLOMBO 40
¶L. COLOMBO 36

COLOMBO 00000065 001.2 OF 004

¶M. COLOMBO 27
¶N. COLOMBO 21
¶O. COLOMBO 11
¶P. COLOMBO 7
¶Q. COLOMBO 2
¶R. 09 COLOMBO 1152
¶S. 09 COLOMBO 1145
¶T. 09 COLOMBO 1139

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

ELECTIONS COMMISSIONER
CONFIRMS RAJAPAKSA’S VICTORY
—————————-

¶1. (C) (Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) Despite earlier
confusion, Elections Commissioner Dissanayake confirmed in a
meeting with PolOff on January 28 that he had indeed
certified President Rajapaksa’s victory in the January 26
presidential election. He said the official gazette
notification was being printed and would be released to the
media later in the afternoon on January 28. The confusion
had arisen late on January 27 when he had not stated in his
results-announcement speech that he was certifying the final
results being listed on the Elections Commissioner’s website.
In that speech, he cited a number of problems he had faced
during the campaign and on election day itself. In the later
meeting with PolOff, he reiterated those complaints but
clearly stated that the voting had been “free and fair.”
Upon this personal confirmation, Post issued a public
statement congratulating the people of Sri Lanka on their
first post-war election and Rajapaksa on his victory. Post
noted the claims of elections law violations and urged that
they be dealt with according to Sri Lankan law, and that the
government ensure the safety of all candidates and election
workers. The full statement is on the embassy website.

RESULTS SHOW REMARKABLE
WIN FOR RAJAPAKSA
———————–

¶2. (C) (Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) Rajapaksa’s wide margin
of victory (18 percent) was not predicted by anyone except a
few hard-core Rajapaksa supporters and defied both the
president’s own internal polling figures and those of the
opposition, all of which showed the race as neck-and-neck
just a few days before the balloting (ref H). Rajapaksa’s
margin also was unprecedented in Sri Lanka apart from the
election of Chandrika Kumaratunge in 1994 under extraordinary
circumstances. Chandrika won by 26 percent in tumultuous
times after the incumbent president had been assassinated in
1993 two weeks before the election and was replaced by his
wife as a last-ditch candidate. Chandrika was re-elected by
eight percentage points in 1999. Most recently, Rajapaksa
won over UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe by less than two
percentage points in 2005.

¶3. (C) (Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) Rajapaksa,s numbers
hovered fairly consistently around 60 percent in each

COLOMBO 00000065 002.2 OF 004

district, except Colombo, Kandy and Badulla where he won with
53 to 54 percent, and the Northern and Eastern Provinces
where Fonseka won with strong support. Rajapaksa exceeded
expectations in some normally UNP strongholds. In Colombo,
despite recent buzz about Fonseka and the UNP’s 51-percent
win in 2005, Rajapaksa carried the vote with 53 percent. He
also did unusually well in the Central Province. In Kandy,
the fourth largest voter pool nationwide, Rajapaksa won 54
percent of votes, having lost with 44 percent in 2005. In
Matale, he won with 60 percent, up from 48 percent in 2005.
Nuwara-Eliya remained loyal to the opposition, but less so
than in 2005 )- Rajapaksa collected 43 percent of the vote
compared to just 28 percent previously. Rajapaksa also did
surprisingly well in the North-West Province. In Puttalam,
he garnered 59 percent compared to 48 percent in 2005. He
increased his support in Karunegala from 52 percent in 2005
to 63 percent in 2010. Matale and Karunegala were two of the
locations cited by the Center for Monitoring Election
Violence (CMEV) as having had disruptions of the counting
process. The other districts flagged by CMEV, Anuradhapura
and Polonnaruwa, also went to Rajapaksa.

PROCESS IN NORTH BETTER THAN
IN PAST BUT FAR FROM PERFECT
—————————-

¶4. (C) (Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) As expected, Fonseka
carried the Eastern and Northern Provinces but by smaller
margins than the UNP had in 2005. Voter turnout in Jaffna
(26 percent) was significantly less than the 74 percent
nationwide average but a marked improvement from the one
percent who cast ballots during the conflict in 2005. In the
Vanni, 40 percent voted, up from 34 percent in 2005. Turnout
was particularly low (14 percent) in Mullaitivu where
transport was largely unavailable. Internally displaced
persons who voted through special procedures strongly
supported Fonseka. Many IDPs who relied on government
transportation to polling booths were reportedly unable to
vote due to a lack of buses (ref B).

OPPOSITION SAYS IT WILL MOUNT
LEGAL CHALLENGE TO RESULTS
——————————

¶5. (C) (Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) Shortly after the
Election Commissioner’s announcement of the final results,
the opposition declared it did not accept them and would
mount a legal challenge. On the evening of the announcement,
January 27, the opposition leaders were distracted by the
developing standoff between Fonseka and government troops
stationed outside his hotel (see paragraph below). By the
morning of January 28 the opposition was still deciding what
its next steps would be. UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe
told PolOff the opposition leaders would be meeting later in
the day to decide their course of action, but he admitted to
PolOff that the legal challenge option would take a month
just to prepare and would then be subject to decision by a
Supreme Court seen by many as friendly to President
Rajapaksa. Ranil already seemed to be moving on to the
parliamentary elections as he spoke. We have had little
contact with the usually stand-offish JVP, the other main
member of the Fonseka coalition, so it is unclear what they
are thinking next steps should be.

FONSEKA STILL FOCUSED ON
HIS SECURITY
————————-

¶6. (C) (Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) General Fonseka spent
most of January 27 holed up in the Cinnamon Lakeside hotel
with members of his family, his advisors, and key opposition

COLOMBO 00000065 003.4 OF 004

officials, while the government kept the hotel surrounded by
hundreds of armed troops and police. Fonseka claimed he was
not being allowed to leave and feared he would either be
arrested or assassinated. The government gave conflicting
stories on why the troops were deployed there, alternately
citing concerns for Fonseka’s safety, concerns he would stage
a coup, or the need to hunt down insurgents and military
deserters in the hotel (and presumably part of Fonseka’s
personally-hired security detail of 30, described by
opposition leaders as retired Army officers). As the evening
progressed, the government began ordering Fonseka’s
government-provided security detail of 65 personnel to
withdraw, ostensibly because he was no longer a candidate and
therefore no longer was entitled to protection at government
expense. Fonseka began appealing for international
assistance, including safe harbor in a neighboring country.
There were reports swirling that he was asking for safe
harbor at the U.S. Embassy, or guarantees of safe passage to
the U.S., but neither Fonseka nor his coalition partners
asked Embassy directly for such assistance.

¶7. (C) (Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) Foreign Minister
Bogollagama summoned the diplomatic corps for a 6:00 PM
meeting on January 27, where he saluted the service of the
Elections Commissioner, cited the Centre for Monitoring of
Election Violence’s (CMEV) allegedly “incident-free”
characterization of the voting process (with no mention of
the later CMEV letter citing irregularities) and appealed
that Fonseka’s situation not be allowed to tarnish the
election. The Foreign Minister was then challenged robustly
but politely by the diplomatic corps, beginning with
Ambassador Butenis, on Fonseka’s situation and the
government’s response. By late evening, Fonseka appeared to
have worked out a deal with the government and left the hotel
with his family and some of his remaining security, traveling
to his home.

¶8. (C) (Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) Fonseka spoke several
times with the Ambassador on the evening of January 27,
expressing deep concerns about his personal security, noting
his government-provided security detail was to end at
midnight. The Ambassador attempted to contact Defense
Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to urge the detail be extended,
but could not reach him. Fonseka also called the State
Department Operations Center twice, trying to reach the
Secretary on the same subject. On January 28, Ranil
Wickremesinghe told PolOff that President Rajapaksa had
informed him that morning that Fonseka would be provided with
security at the level of a former Army Commander. Also on
January 28, Minister GL Pereis told the Ambassador that a
65-person detail had been provided to Fonseka by Supreme
Court order as long as he was a candidate.

¶9. (C) (Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) Later on January 28,
Fonseka’s assistant asked for a meeting at the Embassy, where
she explained to PolOff that Fonseka was still at his home
but had no security personnel at all. She reported that over
a dozen armed men with ski masks on motorbikes were stationed
outside of the house and said Fonseka was requesting that
foreign governments again raise the issue of his security
with the government. She said he would only try to leave the
country if he did not have any security. When PolOff
reconnoitered Fonseka’s house, he saw three men with ski
masks in fatigues hanging around, but it was unclear whether
they might have been part of any smaller security contingent
promised by President Rajapaksa. (When the Ambassador spoke
with Fonseka this morning, he said that while his detail was
gone, there were soldiers deployed on his street, which he
viewed as a threat.)

¶10. (C) (Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) Fonseka told the

COLOMBO 00000065 004.2 OF 004

Ambassador that he wanted to travel to Singapore with his
family, but that the government had placed him on a blacklist
banning him from international travel, and that he understood
his family was also on the list. Fonseka said that if he
were to get to Singapore, he planned to stay there for awhile
to assess the situation, while his family was likely to
travel on to the United States. The Ambassador raised the
issue of Fonseka’s travel with Pereis, who said that Fonseka
would not have immunity from criminal prosecution if he faced
any formal charges, noting that he had no knowledge of any
such charges.

ELECTIONS COMMISSIONER RETIRES,
COMPLICATES PARLIAMENTARY POLLS
——————————-

¶11. (C) (Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) While speaking to
PolOff on January 28, the Elections Commissioner confirmed
that he would retire effective on January 29, and would not
show up for work on February 1. As in his formal speech a
day earlier, he cited tremendous pressure from all sides in
this presidential election and the inability of his office to
obtain compliance with elections rules by the candidates and
their campaigns, particularly on the government side. He
also stated that his retirement would precipitate a
constitutional crisis, because no election could be held
without an Elections Commissioner, and no replacement
Elections Commissioner could be named without implementing
the 17th amendment to the Constitution.

¶12. (C) (Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) There are reports that
the president plans to dissolve parliament very soon and call
for general elections. While the term of the current
parliament ends in April, some observers had thought
Rajapaksa might try to avoid holding a general election by
extending the current parliament’s term through a referendum
or some other means. Other reports were claiming that the
president likely would delay taking the oath of office for
his second term to enable him to complete more of his first
term and extend his total time in office.

NEXT STEPS FOR RAJAPAKSA
————————

¶13. (C) (Rel to UK, CAN, AUS, SWITZ.) It is too early to
tell what direction the reinvigorated Rajapaksa regime will
take. The major issues facing him include economic
development and the closely related issue of the possible
removal of GSP-plus preferential trade tariffs, political
reconciliation with ethnic Tamils, and the question of
accountability for past human rights violations. Discussion
among the political class of Colombo, and the opposition in
particular, on what Rajapaksa will do next has not yet gotten
into full swing. One of his inner circle told the Ambassador
that with a parliamentary majority of his own (and not from a
coalition), Rajapaksa would have the freedom to pursue
reconciliation and reform, initiatives his reliance on
nationalistic allies would have stymied. We are likely to
see more in-depth analysis by both sides on what the results
of the election mean over the next several days. Post will
continue to monitor these discussions and report our views on
the likely way ahead.
BUTENIS

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