Sri Lanka’s axing of Norway shows uneasiness with West

April 14th, 2009 - 4:23 pm ICT by IANS  

By M.R. Narayan Swamy
New Delhi, April 14 (IANS) Sri Lanka’s move to dump Norway as the peace facilitator marks the end of a tortuous peace process that showed promise at one time, and points to Colombo’s uneasiness with the West as it prepares to militarily overwhelm the Tamil Tigers.

Colombo declared Monday that it no longer desired Norway as a facilitator vis-a-vis the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) following an attack by a Tamil mob on the Sri Lankan embassy in Oslo Sunday.

Diplomatic sources say that while the vandalism may have been the spark, Sri Lanka’s real reason may be its lurking suspicion that Norway could be helping a cornered LTTE to reach out to the US and the UN.

Although the peace process in Sri Lanka died sometime back, Norway officially retained its title of a peace facilitator accorded a decade ago when Colombo was desperate for peace with the LTTE.

Norway’s diplomatic efforts led to the historic ceasefire agreement between Sri Lanka and the LTTE in February 2002, leading to six rounds of talks between the two sides.

But the peace process began to unravel within three years, leading to a full-fledged war from mid-2006. Even before that, Norway came under attack in Sri Lanka on charges of bias towards the LTTE.

Despite the adverse circumstances and Colombo’s refusal to talk to the LTTE, Oslo remained in contact with the Tigers and international actors to see if somehow peace could come to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka was put off by Norway this year when it introduced Selvarasa Pathmanathan, chief of the newly set up LTTE’s Department of International Relations who is wanted by the Interpol, to UN officials.

Sri Lanka suspects that Norway may have also helped the US to open a channel with the LTTE, a designated terrorist group in Washington because of which US officials cannot deal directly with the Tigers.

The attack on the Sri Lankan embassy by pro-LTTE Tamils seeking a ceasefire in the island nation gave the opportunity for Colombo to finally act against Norway.

A European diplomat told IANS over telephone from Colombo: “The Sri Lankan decision also shows it does not want to engage with the LTTE any more. They want to finish off the LTTE. If that is the case, why do they need a facilitator? In any case, there is no peace. So why the facilitator?”

Interestingly, Norway had stopped using the term “peace facilitator” for some time because it had concluded there was no peace in Sri Lanka and the two warring sides appeared to be in no mood to shake hands.

Norway has in recent times told the LTTE that there was anger against the group in the West, most of whose countries felt betrayed by the Tigers’ seeming inability to use the peace window that opened in 2002.

But this was not to the liking of the Tigers, whose supporters have publicly criticised Norway over international appeals to the LTTE to give up arms and free civilians from the shrunken area it still controls.

Following Sri Lanka’s decision, Norway will have to decide if it should continue to be in touch with the LTTE, which is outlawed in many countries as a terrorist organisation, and if it must remain a member of the co-chairs group that also includes the US, Japan and the European Union; and if yes, in what capacity.

Norway has realised after almost a decade that it is impossible to please everyone in Sri Lanka. It is a lesson India learnt long ago — and which it conveyed to Norway when it jumped into the Sri Lankan quagmire.

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