Saturday, September 10, 2011

The nature of the Norwegian participation in the Sri Lankan Peace Process

Dusk during winter in Norway

History of the Conflict

It is not very clear to all of us, when did the Sri Lankan conflict begin? Some analysts say that the conflict started in 1956, with the introduction of the Sinhala only act in the country, which led to communal uprisings. Some other analysts say that the conflict began in 1983 after the Black July, which killed many thousands of innocent Tamils in the city of Colombo and suburbs, and their properties were destroyed by the Sinhala mobs. And some other analysts argue it is an ethnic conflict.

“The Sri Lankan Civil War is the name given to the ongoing conflict on the island-nation of Sri Lanka. Since 23 July 1983, there has been on-and-off civil war predominantly between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers), a separatist armed organization which fights for the creation of an independent state named Tamil Eelam in the North and the East of the island” according to some political analysts.

Sri Lanka’s current population is 21,128,773 according to the 2008 census, which is expected to reach upto 23 million by 2030 according to a recent survey. Out of this figure more than 70,000 people have been officially listed as killed due to the conflict after 1983. After the 1983 Black July, many young Tamils left the country. The war continued in the North and East of the country. There had been three attempts made to reinstate peace in Sri Lanka including the Indo-Lanka Accord in 1987, which ended in 1990.

Ceasefire was declared in December 2001. The then Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) signed a ceasefire agreement on 22nd of February 2002 with the Norwegian mediation. The ceasefire was observed by both parties with the help of Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, which consisted foreign monitors from Nordic countries, who were based in North and East to monitor the ceasefire. The hostilies renewed in 2005. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were driven out of entire Eastern province. After winning the battle of the East, the Government of Sri Lanka has shifted it’s offensive against the LTTE in the North. At the same time the Government had officially announced the withdrawal from the Ceasefire Agreement on 2nd of January 2008.As a result of the current conflict the Government has captured 98% of the territory which was controlled by the LTTE for more than a decade. The United States of America, European Union, Japan and Norway have jointly issued a statement on 3rd of February 2009, urging the LTTE to lay down their arms and end hostilities.

Norways’ Role in other countries

Norway has been an active supporter of the peace efforts in two decade long conflict in Southern Sudan along with the United States of America and the United Kingdom.
Norway has played a central role in Middle Eastern conflict between Isreal and Palestine. As a result of this, a peace agreement was signed between Israel and Palestine in 1993, now Norway is actively promoting the implementation of the Roadmap for Peace.
A peace agreement was signed in Oslo in 1996 to settle the Guatemalan conflict.

Norway’s role in Sri Lankan Conflict

Parliament on Norway

Norway’s Motto is Alt for Norge / Alt for Noreg (Everything for Norway).Norway is known as a peaceful country, and a peace maker. Norway has experience through World War II.Norway has a rapid economic growth. Norway is a wealthy country, and the fourth largest oil exporter in the world. It was the second largest exporter of seafood in 2006.

Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway

Norway was rated the most peaceful country in the world by Global Peace Index in 2007. And, Norway was ranked the highest in human development from 2001 to 2006. Norway shares the frist place with Iceland from 2007 to 2008.
Kingdom of Norway has 4,805,437 people according to the census carried out on 29th of January 2009. The country is richly endowed with natural resources such as petroleum, hydropower, fish, forests and minerals.

There are 13,063 Sri Lankan Tamils living in Norway, which is 0.27% of the total population. The Sri Lankan Tamils, who are living in Norway are taking part in local politics, and they are very infulential. It’s also believed that the LTTE wanted Norwegian Government to mediate, because the Sri Lankan Tamils had an influence in Norwegian politics.

Yazhdevi Restaurant run by the Jaffna Tamils in Oslo, Norway

The then Government led by the former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremasinghe invited Norway to mediate the peace process in Sri Lanka. Ranil Wickremasinghe campaigned for pro peae during his election campaign in 2001. He won the election with sweeping majority. As a result, a Memorumdum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Ranil Wickremasinghe and the Leader of the LTTE Velupillai Pirabakaran with the help of Norwegian Government. The economic embargo in the LTTE controlled areas was lifted, A9 highway from Jaffna to Kandy was reopened for civilians. Civilians were allowed to travel through Vanni for the first time in history.Many such as journalists, students, religious leaders, businessmen, and tourists enjoyed the journey on A9 highway. Most of the non ~ Tamil speaking travellers went to Jaffna for the first time by A9 highway during the ceasefire period. Commercial flights to Jaffna began their operations soon after the ceasefire agreement was signed. The ban on the LTTE was lifted in August 2002. The Government and the LTTE exchanged Prisoners of War (POW) for the first time in the history of Sri Lanka.

The Royal Norwegian facilitators have assisted the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to negotiate for a ceasefire. Norway has aslo co~ordinated the donors to support the Sri Lankan peace process. And, contributed to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, which used to monitor the ceasefire agreement.
There had been six rounds of peace talks held between the Government and the LTTE. The peace process stalled on 21st of April 2003, when the LTTE announced that they are suspending the further talks due to some displeasure of handling certain critical issues such as excluding the LTTE in Washington talks and peace dividends such as security withdrawals were not met. But according to many reports published the LTTE maintained the fact that, they were committed for a negotiated settlement to the two decade long conflict.During the ceasefire period Norwegian Peace Envoy Erik Solheim visited Sri Lanka many times and held talks with the Government and the LTTE in Vanni.

Norwegian’s role is criticised

The flag of Royal Norway was burnt in front of the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo by some Buddhist monks on 9th of Februaray 2004, in protest of the peace process with the LTTE. There had been constant attacks on Norway’s role in the anti~peace media. Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) continued to attack Norway for its sincere role in peace making, and held protests islandwide. There had been enough hate speech in the media by the anti~peace activists that “Norway is selling the country to the LTTE”. There had been numerous incidents to sling mud on Norway’s sincere effort to end the conflict in Sri Lanka.

Anura Kumara Dissanayake, of the Marxist JVP, or People's Liberation Front, told reporters that the Norwegians would be "an unfair facilitator".

"We have the example of Israeli-Palestine conflict. The Norwegian
brokering there had not led to any peace
", Dissanayake said.

But the independent newspaper, The Island, was also disparaging of any role by Oslo.

"The Norwegian government has shown itself to be very partial towards the LTTE and this was the reason why their mediation efforts made earlier failed," it said it an editorial Friday.

Norway has been facilitator and not a dictator in this peace process” Former Norwegian Special Envoy Erik Solheim quoted as saying.

It is very positive that the parties have agreed to meet at a high level to discuss how to improve the serious security situation” said the Norwegian Minister of International Development Erik Solheim.

Norway in its role as facilitator will do its best to help the parties to find a practical solution to relieve the pressure the ceasefire has come under. The parties are taking a small but very significant step towards putting the peace process back on a positive track” added Solheim.

Norway’s mediation role was mainly criticed by the pro~war elements such as JVP and JHU. Continuous reports of anti~peace efforts were available in public domain, criticising the Norwegian efforts to restore peace in war torn Sri Lanka. There had been posters pasted in Sinhala on the walls in Colombo and suburbs during the peace process, which gave a negative picture of the Norwegian facilitation. Even the helicopter service provided by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission to airlift the LTTE representatives to go abroad for peace talks, which was facilitated by the Norwegian Government was continuously criticised.

Amidst the criticisms, the President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapakse requested Norway to continue mediating with the LTTE. It was being speculated by various elements that, Norway was paving way to the LTTE to raise funds in other countries, although LTTE was banned in United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, India, Japan, European Union and Brazil.

Difficult Task

It was not an easy task, which was carried out by the Norwegian Government. They had to face several hardships in bringing both the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to the same table for talks. As mediators, they encouraged discussion between both parties.

The LTTE informed the Norwegian mediators, that they would not accept the ceasefire monitors from European Union countries, which banned the LTTE. The Norwegian mediators had to handle this issue with the LTTE very tactfully.

"The European Union, despite the imposition of the ban, has taken the position that they will continue to engage with the LTTE as far as the peace process is concerned," said Late Ketesh Loganathan, the Deputy Head of the Government Peace Secretariat. "So, we see this as no reason as to why the monitors who are from the EU countries cannot function".

The Norwegian mediators managed the situation amidst attacks in the media. There had been new reports filed saying that, Norway was interested in oil resource which was available in Mannar. Therefore, Norway had an economic interest in Sri Lanka, and they were not genuinely engaged in settling the conflict.

Does Norway Support Terrorism?

A few anti~peace activists alleged Norway as supporting terrorism in Sri Lanka. The have accused the Norwegians were supporting the LTTE financially, and Norway was partial towards the LTTE. Norwegians were blamed by the hard~line politicians as they had a “soft corner” for the LTTE.

Many allegations were made against the Norwegian Government that, Norway has provided Radio transmitting devices to the LTTE during the ceasefire period. Former President of Sri Lanka Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has sent a six paged letter to Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik.

Former President of Sri Lanka Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s letter to the Former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremasinghe states “I am unable to agree with you that "the acquisition of an FM radio transmission facility would enhance the peace process". In fact, it may well have the opposite effect as widespread public agitation over the whole episode reveals. I understand that the LTTE transmissions which commenced on January 16th include LTTE songs and music, and eulogies of the LTTE''s martial history. This could have a disturbing effect on the public mood for peace. We must also be sensitive to the legitimate concerns of our neighbours”. Nevertheless, the LTTE managed to expand its radio station named “Voice of Tigers known as VOT)”. The LTTE used its radio station as a propaganda tool, which broadcasts eight hours daily in Tamil and Sinhala. A website for the radio was launched later during the ceasefire period. The Embassy of Norway in Colombo was blamed for this development, as it used its diplomatic privilege to import the radio transmitting equipments with concessions.

Gustav Vigeland Park in Norway

Pressure on LTTE

After 9/11 attack in United States of America in 2001, there had been continuous pressure from various sides on the LTTE to enter into negotiations. Tamil Diaspora played a major role in convincing the LTTE for negotiations with the Government of Sri Lanka. On the other hand many countries were considering the ban on the LTTE as well as a result of the 9/11 attack.

Split in the LTTE

In 2004, the Eastern Commander of the LTTE Colonel Karuna (Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan) has decided to leave the organization along with considerable number of cadres, which was an irreplaceable loss to the LTTE. The reasons sited by him for leaving the organization were, of development was carried out by the LTTE during the ceasefire period, and the cadres from the East were not taken care of by the leader and the organisation.

Will India replace Norway?

When Norway’s role is continuously criticized, speculation spreads whether India will intervene in the internal conflict of Sri Lanka. Although the question remains unanswered, but many of us do not fail to realize that India is not ready to burn its fingers again. India’s role in peace keeping in Sri Lanka during 1987 to 1990 was not welcome by very many Sri Lankans.

Political parties such as Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, and Jathika Hela Urumaya may like the Indian role, but the LTTE will definitely not welcome it. But the question arises whether the Sri Lankan conflict can be resolved without the LTTE. If not the LTTE, then who will represent the minority Tamils in Sri Lanka? Or do the Tamils trust the other Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka? These questions will remain unanswered.

Recent accusation by the JVP

The National Freedom Front (NFF), a party of the ruling coalition, urged the Government yesterday to sever its diplomatic relationships with Norway immediately charging that it had facilitated a discussion between UN Under~Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Sir John Holmes and LTTE’s arms procurement dealer Kumar Pathmanathan alias KP recently.

Quoting a military analyst, NFF President Wimal Weeranwansa told a news briefing on Thursday that Norway had accepted KP as the LTTE leader, and arranged his dialogue with Mr. Holmes.

Mr. Weerawansa said that KP was a person wanted by the Interpol for his arms smuggling activities for the LTTE, and he possessed 25 bogus passports.
The UN has committed a serious offence by having links with an arms dealer. It is an act inimical to Sri Lanka. Norway has committed so many inimical acts against Sri Lanka. Therefore, we are asking the Government to sever its diplomatic relationships with this country” he said.

He said that Norway had helped the LTTE through this exercise, and it should make a statement in this regard immediately.
Even the UN should make a statement” he said.
If the LTTE lays down arms and surrenders, this war will end even tomorrow. So, it should be held responsible for the present crisis” Wimal Weerawansa further said.

Who will mediate?

If Norway is not invited to mediate the Sri Lankan peace process again, then who will be the third party to take the peace process forward? The Government is pushing the LTTE to corners, and will be able to negotiate for a political settlement later. By that time the LTTE will be weakened militarily and after losing territory, they will come for negotiations, this is the perception amongst many of us. But if the Government is going to persecute the hardcore LTTE leaders, then it is not yet clear with whom the negotiations will take place.

And, if the chances still stand, then will Norway be willing to negotiate the peace process again? Or will both parties trust Norway, especially the Government of Sri Lanka bearing all the accusations and allegations in its mind?

Genuine Effort

Norway entered into mediating the Sri Lankan peace process with genuine interest to resolve the conflict, and help to have a sustainable peace in the country. But, unfortunately the situation changed rapidly, and fragile peace led to war again.
Neither the Government of Sri Lanka nor the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has borne the cost of the peace process. All the cost during the peace process was borne by the Royal Norwegian Government. They were sincerely involved, and committed for a permanent settlement for the two decade long conflict. They neither had hidden agenda nor hidden interests in the country’s resources.

Magnificent sunset in Norway during winter

Variety of winter birds in Norway

The above research paper was written and submitted as an assignment on the topic of "Mediation" for the Diploma in Conflict Resolution: Skills Development conducted by Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS) in 2009.


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