Evaluation of Norwegian role in Lankan peace process: Solheim
June 26, 2010, 7:20 pm
‘Manik de Silva reporting from Oslo
An independent evaluation of Norway’s role in Sri Lanka’s peace process is being undertaken to determine what aspects of it was good and what was bad to draw lessons from that experience, Norway’s International Development Minister Erik Solheim told a group of Sri Lankan journalists in Oslo on Friday.
Meeting the visitors in the foreign ministry here, Solheim who spoke on the record confirmed speaking on the telephone to the KP (Kumaran Pathmanathan) ``many times’’ and also to Pulidevan and Nadesan. He had called for an organized end to the fighting that ``would have saved thousands of lives’’ but this call had been ``unfortunately rejected’’ by the LTTE. Representatives of the UN had also spoken to Prabhakaran, Solheim who indicated Norwegian support for the UN investigation panel said.
``There is only one way forward – not to go back to any form of violence,’’ he declared. He said the call from Pulidevan and Nadesan to organize a surrender came ``far too late.’’ They had been told ``if you want to surrender raise a white flag.’’ That had been clearly indicated.
It was not only Norway that had said so Solheim revealed, but he declined to identify other parties who had done so.
Relaxed and friendly, the Norwegian minister remarked that this was the first time he had addressed as large a group of 20 Sri Lankan journalists comprising Sinhalese, Tamils and a Muslim. He welcomed the group warmly.
Although officials of the foreign ministry were present at the press conference, Solheim fielded all questions ducking none during the 30-minute meeting.
He indicated that the TNA had an important role to play in emerging events, pointing out that it was Tamils in Sri Lanka rather than those outside who must play a decisive role.
``The Tamils in Sri Lanka should be the real decision makers,’’ he said.
He saw great potential in Sri Lanka and urged that the opportunities provided by the dawn of peace be seized to maximum advantage. Peace was a pre-condition for economic development, he said asserting that Norway, one of Sri Lanka’s oldest development partners, will continue to be a partner in that process.
``Sri Lanka is a paradise island, not just the land (physically) but also the people. The opportunities (for the country) are enormous and you must make the most of them,’’ he said.
Responding to a question on whether he regarded the bad press both Norway and he personally had received in Sri Lanka, Solheim laughingly answered ``yes.’’ He acknowledged that there should be free criticism but there had been some ``black lies.’’
He said that Norway assumed the role of peace facilitator at President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s request as well as that of (then) Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, having overwhelmingly won the war and thereafter the elections, will be the country’s main decision taker in the foreseeable future. There have been different opinions on how to achieve peace. Rapid economic development and economic growth were necessary. Peace is a pre-condition for economic growth.
Asked whether Norway had any further role to play in Sri Lanka, he said there was no particular role, nor any request to do so. Relations would be normal and Norway will remain a partner in economic development.
There was a large Sri Lankan population living in Norway, mostly Tamils and also some Sinhalese. Senior Norwegian officials indicated that the Lankans living there worked hard and their children were doing well in school – often better than Norwegians.
Solheim said that all Lankans wanted lasting peace. There was broad international support for Tamil rights and no support for war.