54. Telegram 379 From the Embassy in Sri Lanka to the Department of State 1 2

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  • GSL Decides Defer MAP Training
SUMMARY: GSL has decided not rpt not pursue request for CONUS for training for SLAF but defer for consideration later. Decision apparently based on PM’s wish maintain even balance between US and USSR and avoid sending any trainees to Soviet Union. Embassy believes reported view of PM that training in Sri Lanka would be acceptable should not rpt not be accepted. Recommend opportunity for small CONUS training program be kept open. END SUMMARY
Mission has received MDFA note dated February 1 thanking US for offer to train Sri Lanka Air Force personnel under MAP but stating that on further consideration of its immediate requirements and priorities GSL had decided not rpt not to pursue courses but defer consideration until later date. Ministry expressed hope it would be possible to revert to offer again “if and when the need arises in the future.”
Army chief General Attygalle (who had an FY 1974 US MTP request ready)told Defense Attache he was surprised at PM’s decision and had taken matter up with MDFA Secretary Jayasinghe who ascribed cause to internal GSL Cabinet pressure. According to Attygalle, both Minister of Fisheries George Rajapakse and Minister of Industries T.B. Subasinghe (both left wing members SLFP) have been pressing PM to approve proposed Soviet fisheries agreement and for permission send officers of both ministries to USSR for training. PM, Attygalle said, has been adverse to training Ceylonese in Soviet Union and thus far has withstood pressure by citing Sri Lanka’s non-alignment policy. She allegedly feels acceptance US offer would make difficult refusal of Soviet offers.
General Attygalle suggested to Jayasinghe that American Ambassador be so informed in order clarify grounds for rejection. Director General Foreign Affairs Vernon Mendis then called into meeting and said Prime Minister had considered this, as she did not rpt not want her effort to [Page 3] improve GSL-US relations to be affected. According Attygalle, Mendis went on to say PM concerned that her effort to support US at UN on terrorism issue had QUOTE backfired UNQUOTE and did not want decision on military training to give more concern. She had decided, however, it would be unwise to reveal officially to Ambassador extent of internal Cabinet difficulties. Mendis then allegedly told General that latter could informally and confidentially convey above information to DATT.
During Army Commander’s discussion he was also told PM had no rpt no objection to US military training team coming to Sri Lanka, as USSR and SRC had had teams here to assist with equipment given after 1971 insurgency.
COMMENT: Adverse decision appears reflect PM’s continuing suspicion of Soviet motives and activities in Sri Lanka and should not be interpreted as change in her attitude toward US. Air Commodore Paddy Mendis explained to DATT that extended discussions between MDFA and PM centered around search for acceptable alternatives that would allow US training without forcing PM to take Soviet training as well. These included paying for training—too expensive; paying for only one or two courses—unacceptable to SLAF; and asking USG to provide under non-military label—infeasible. With none of alternatives acceptable, decision made to postpone issue.
Sri Lanka currently authorized CONUS training only. Mission believes it not rpt not in US interest provide in-country training team should, in fact, such request be forthcoming, as presence US military neither in consonance current policy low-visibility nor would it provide desired exposure to US concepts envisaged in CONUS program. Recommend, however, US keep open opportunity for modest CONUS program should PM feel such training could be acceptable in next year or so. Meanwhile Sri Lanka armed forces personnel some will continue to receive some training in India, Pakistan, UK, Australia and Canada.
Van Hollen
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 84, Colombo Embassy Files: Lot 77 F 54, DEF 19–8, Military Assistance. Secret. It was drafted by Seger and cleared by ADCM. It was repeated to London, Moscow, New Delhi, SecDef, DOD/ISA, DOD/DSAA, and CINCPAC.
  2. The Embassy reported that the Government of Sri Lanka had elected not to pursue a MAP program with the United States. The Embassy believed that the reason for the rejection of U.S. training was related to non-alignment: specifically, the Sri Lankan Government’s desire to avoid accepting Soviet aid to balance that of the United States.