Don’t ignore Tamil cry for self-government, Solheim tells Sri Lanka (Interview)

May 19th, 2009 - 1:47 pm ICT by IANS  

By M.R. Narayan Swamy
New Delhi, May 19 (IANS) Norwegian minister Erik Solheim, the chief architect of Sri Lanka’s 2002 peace process, has urged Colombo to be generous and not to ignore the Tamil desire for autonomy just because the Tamil Tigers chief is dead and his organization decimated.

“The government of Sri Lanka has won the conventional battle but it is far from winning the peace,” Solheim said in a telephonic interview from Oslo hours after Velupillai Prabhakaran, head of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), was killed Monday in a remote part of the island’s north.

Also killed in the little strip of land were his son Charles Anthony, who headed the LTTE’s IT wing and was being groomed to take over from the father, LTTE political head B. Nadesan, LTTE intelligence wing leader Pottu Amman and LTTE Sea Tigers chief Soosai.

“It is now that the government must show generosity, give substantial offer of self-government in the north and east (of Sri Lanka) and start creating an inclusive state for both Tamils and Sinhalese alike,” Solheim told IANS.

“If they don’t do that, the struggle for Tamil aspirations will find new forms,” he added.

Between 2000 and 2006, Solheim, now Norway’s minister of environment and international development, met the reclusive Prabhakaran about 10 times to persuade him to enter a peace process - and succeeded.

Eventually, the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE signed a historic ceasefire agreement in February 2002, leading to unprecedented peace. But the truce collapsed after months, leading to renewed fighting.

Solheim recalled what he thought of Prabhakaran, who took to militancy while still in his teens in Jaffna and founded the LTTE in 1976, building it into a powerful war machine.

“I met him more times than any non-Tamil. He was a shy man, calm and not expressing strong feelings… He was for a long period of time a strong and successful military leader.”

According to Solheim, the death of LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham in December 2006 deprived Prabhakaran, the group’s founder leader, of a valuable ally who could have steered him politically.

“After the loss of Balasingham he lost the ability to (think outside of) solely military affairs. Balasingham was one advisor who could speak to Prabhakaran to (make him) move in another direction. Without Balasingham, the LTTE lost that ability.”

In the last few years, Solheim pointed out, there was not one single political initiative from the LTTE.

But the death of Prabhakaran, his son and his top aides does not mean that Sri Lanka is a closed chapter for the international community, which was so very deeply involved in the peace process, he said.

“It is very important for the international community to keep the focus on Sri Lanka. We should clearly tell the government of Sri Lanka… Otherwise problems will come back.”

The world needs to take interest in the welfare of the tens of thousands of Tamils displaced by the war. “There is need for access to these Tamils, to make certain that no one is killed and there are no disappearances, and that living conditions in the camp are good.”

Now that the Sri Lankan conflict has ended so violently, was the Norway-brokered peace process a waste?

No, reasoned Solheim. “The peace process was acceptable to most Sri Lankans at that time. If it had been accepted by the political leaders, it would have been accepted by the vast majority.”

What does he feel about Prabhakaran’s death?

Solheim declined to give his personal feelings but said he was “sorry over the enormous carnage of young boys, both Sinhaleses and Tamils, in the war … the unnecessary bloodshed.”

(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at narayan.swamy@ians.in)

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