Norwegian initiated Peace Negotiation is on Course.
India has condescended to the Sri Lankan efforts, to bring about peace and harmony in the war-torn country, through the Norwegian initiated mediation. However, In its conflict with Pakistan, India has stubbornly opposed to third party mediation and facilitation and held a firm view not to allow third party meddling in the South Asian affairs. Any how, it relented and softened its stance with the Sri Lanka's efforts in securing Norwegian initiative to facilitate talks between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), to find a sustainable solution to the long drawn out conflict.
Recently, (on February 25), Lionel Fernando, the Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary was in New Delhi, to brief his Indian counterpart Lalit Mansingh, on the Sri Lankan Government's arrangements to resolve the ethnic conflict and the Norwegian initiative to broker peace in the country. Fernando made a startling revelation that the nature of Norway's initiative is only to facilitate talks between the Government and the LTTE and not a mediation effort. Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary's statement contradicts the basic position adopted by the Tiger Supremo Velupillai Prabakaran, who has throughout insisted on a third party mediated political negotiation with the Sri Lankan Government.
Earlier, India's policy towards Sri Lanka was intricately linked with the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Tamils of the Indian origin. In the 80's, Indian relations with Sri Lanka became amongst the most complex, difficult and sensitive to manage, but deteriorated to the worst, after the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, in 29 July 1987. However, after the withdrawal of the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF), India started adopting a non-intrusive policy with Sri Lanka. Gradually, it developed interest in improving bilateral relations in all fields of mutual interest.
In line with its new policy, India considers the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka an internal issue. According to the latest policy stance India has declared that it respects Sri Lankan Government's right to deal with the internal situation the way it liked, a fait accompli, and nodded its approval for the Norwegian initiated peace process. It is further reported that, Lalit Mansingh, the Indian Foreign Secretary has expressed hope and emphasized, "eventual; solution to the ethnic problem would be comprehensive in its scope, meeting the legitimate aspirations of the Sri Lankan society, within the framework of the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka."
India and the LTTE:
In the meantime, according to available reports, India which has already banned the LTTE after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, has not raised any issues about Prabakaran and other leaders of the LTTE, who are internationally proclaimed offenders in the assassination case and for whom the Interpol has already issued with the Red Notice. It was a sigh of relief for Sri Lanka, when India at this juncture : has not demanded the extradition of the proclaimed offenders of the Rajiv Gandhi's murder.
for India's obvious change in the attitude towards the Tamils by completely ignoring any mentions about the Tamils as usual to safeguard their interest in the statement made by the Foreign Secretary of India and using the choosy phrase "acceptable to all sections of the society."
and for making a generalized benign statement amounts to an endorsement of the Government's stand in the ethnic conflict.
On the other hand, it was further intriguing to note that, the Americans, who have also banned the LTTE, continue to maintain a studied silence on the Norwegian initiated peace efforts in the country. On February 25, the American Secretary of State, Madeline Albright released the "Country Reports on the Human Rights Practices - 1999," to the representatives of print and electronic media. Not a word was found mentioned about the Norwegian initiated peace process in the section of the report, that dealt intrusively about Sri Lanka.
Norway - the seasoned Peace Campaigner:
Sri Lankan Government has mandated Norway, to initiate negotiations to bring about a permanent solution to the decades-long ethnic tension and conflict in the country. Norway, a country with 4.4 million peace loving people, is a seasoned peace campaigner. Norway, is a kingdom with King Harald V (1991- to date), a hereditary constitutional monarch as the head of the Royal Norwegian Government, that supports international cooperation and settlement of disputes amicably and peacefully. The country is also dedicated in encouraging democracy, assisting refugees and protecting human rights, throughout the world.
Since 1814 to 1905, Norway was merged with Sweden in a union. In 1905, the union came to an end. Norway became an independent nation, but the country still continues with the constitution adopted on 17 May 1814. Norway is one of the leading Western European nations, that voted against joining the European Union, at a referendum held on 1994. Since 1990, it is energetically involved in bringing about peace and harmony in various countries. It has successfully involved with the peace process in Guatemala and in the Middle East.
The Oslo Accord, also known as the "Declaration of Principles," was signed between the Israel Government and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), on 30 August, 1993, remained unknown to the world, until it was completed. Two days later only, the World learned about the full scope of the negotiations, that had been initiated and carried out in Norway. This negotiation was carried out without the assistance of the world's most popular peace-broker, the Americans.
While negotiations with Israel, Palestinian, Jordanian and Syrian representatives were being held in Washington, the real ground-breaking work was done through the initiative of Yossi Belin, the Norway's labor party member, who initiated series of private negotiations with the PLO in Oslo, upon the recommendation of Shimon Peres, who was at that time, the Foreign Minister of Israel. Senior Israeli and PLO officials held a series of 14 secret meetings in Norway and 3 in another country, moderated by Terje Larsen, with the able guidance of the Norway's foreign Minister John Jorgen of the Labor party Government, before the parties to the conflict set their hands on the Accord.
Later, Shimon Peres in his book, "The New Middle East," wrote that the decision to locate the talk in Norway was by no means unintentional. He wrote that the negotiations began far from the flash of the cameras and the shouts of reporters. He added, "of course, the dialogue began slowly, step-by-step. It seemed strange at first, almost impossible to achieve our goals, but time passed, we could discern for the first time some small signs of flexibility among the Palestinian." Substantively, the PLO and Israeli teams had much to talk about to conclude positively with an Accord, which ended the belligerent campaign between both parties existed since the creation of Israel, on 14 May 1948. The statement goes to proof the persevering efforts of Norway in achieving the impossible.
Since 1990, Labor leader Gro Harlem Brundtland, who presently heads the World Health Organization (WHO), served as the Prime Minister, until she decided to step out of politics in October 1996. Subsequently, Labor leader Thorbjorn Jangland formed a new Labor Government and stayed in office until October 1997. In the general elections held on 17th October 1997, to a 165-member modified unicameral parliament - Storting, though Labor party won 65 seats, but the leader of the Labor Party did not come forward to form the government, as his party have failed to win at least 36.9% percent of the national vote in the 1997 general elections, the percentage of votes they won in 1993. The onus of forming the Government fell on the able shoulders of Kjell Magne Bondevik, the leader of the Christian Democratic Party, who formed a three party coalition and moved in to lead a minority government. Bondevik's non-socialist coalition is composed of the Centre Party - with 11 members, Christian Democratic Party - with 25 members and the Liberal Party - with 6 members. The coalition parties control only 42 members in the 165 member Storting and the coalition governs on the basis of shifting alliance in the parliament.
When the new minority government led by Kjell Magne Bondevik decided to continue with the Norwegian new found tradition of assisting in the search for peace in the conflict plagued regions, this writer indicated in his article, "Lethal Dance must End" dated 24 October 1998, appeared in the "Weekend Express," Colombo, as follows:
"Pursuit of peace is the noblest thing, and one could go far for this. Contacts are being established independently with the Scandinavian countries to ascertain their willingness to facilitate such talks." Due to restraint placed on the writer at that particular period of time, the country name was withheld but was generalized. During the Presidential election held in December 1999, the Sri Lankan President informed openly her contact with Norway and her request to facilitate the talks.
A master of Diplomacy:
Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, before coming to Colombo, met with Anton Balasingham, the political advisor and theoretician of the LTTE in London, on 12 February, and held talks to ascertain the possibility of Norway assisting peace talks between Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers. During the course of a two hour discussion, Anton Balasingham appraised the Minister the LTTE's position on peace talks and on the negotiated settlement.
Subsequently, on the invitation of the Sri Lankan Government, Knut Vollebaek was on a day's official visit to Colombo on 16 February, at the invitation of Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister. The Norwegian Foreign Minister had discussion with his Sri Lankan counterpart on the subject of Norway assisting discussions to take place between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Later he met with the Ranil Wickremasinghe, the Leader of the Opposition.
When Vollebaek met Chandrika Kumaratunge Bandaranbaike, the Sri Lankan President, at her fortified official residence, for a four hour marathon discussion, where he informed the President that, Norway was willing to accept the challenging task of initiating political dialogue between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE, aimed at resolving the ethnic problem.
The bespectacled, astute Knut Vollebaek, the Foreign Minister of Norway is a career diplomat, a skilled tactician in quiet diplomacy, was born on 11 February 1946, and is married with one child. He holds degrees in political science and economics. He started his career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1973. He has been posted in New Delhi, Madrid and Harare. Vollebaek became the Ambassador to San Jos? 1991-93, later, held positions as Head of division and Director General at the Foreign Ministry. He was also the State Secretary for Kjell Magne Bondevik from 1989 to 90, Assistant Secretary General for Development Cooperation since 1994. Again in 1997, he was appointed as Ambassador to Paris prior to accepting the daunting foreign ministerial portfolio.
Mandating Norway for the search for Peace.
At the meeting with the Sri Lankan President, Knut Vollebaek discussed about the modalities for talks and about the proposed talk with the Tigers. He stressed that "a basis for a dialouge must be established between the parties."
Following his meeting with the President, Vollebaek ingeniously in diplomatic parlance, said about the acceptance of the mandate to search for peace, as follows:
"Upon the request from the President and following a wish from the LTTE, I have today informed the President that, Norway is willing to accept the challenging task of trying to bring the parties together in such a dialouge. We have also discussed modalities for commencing direct talks."
Now, the real search for peace to the ethnic conflict is on in Norway. Normally, Sri Lankans are used to 'long' for all sorts of details and gossips about negotiations, peace process, but it is unlikely for them to get any grist to their mill, when Norway is in the helm of the process. Norway is a seasoned campaigner and it would be very hard to get any such trivial details, until a conclusive result is achieved.
Norway's peace initiative psychedelically augurs well in the country. Speculations are rife, subsequent to the sojourn to Colombo by the Norwegian Foreign Minister. Even sky is not the limit for the stretches of imaginations so far projected by a section of the local and Indian print and electronic media. Contemporaneously, as usual, the country is witnessing the emergence of the chauvinistic dark forces in the political horizon, bent on sabotaging the peace process that is in its initial stages.
Sri Lankan President and the peace process:
Earlier, the Sri Lankan President's ranting of peace and her constant refrains were outwardly an ostentatious show, and she continued with her belligerent campaigns, and rhetorical harangues against her warring partner, the Tamil Tigers. Unfortunately, up to now, she has yet to achieve victory either in war or peace. Her chauvinistic idiosyncrasy, long berating against the oppositions, allegations against the independent media have yet to win the hearts and minds of the Tamils.
So far, the Sri Lankan President, it is observed, has failed to display her sincerity towards her peace overtures. Her loud chorus for peace and her proposal for negotiation with the LTTE to end the ethnic conflict, seems to be a winding path with potholes and speed-breakers. Whilst she appeals with the Tamils and other interested groups to induce the LTTE to come to the negotiating table, she still continues to engage her armed forces with the military campaign to fight the Tigers.
Unfortunately, up to now, she has failed to declare a unilateral cessation of hostilities that would infuse certain degree of believability. In 1994, when Chandrika Kumaratunge won the parliamentary general elections and assumed office as the Prime Minister, the Tiger leader unilaterally declared the cessation of hostilities and antagonism, to display his honest intentions. Now, it is Sri Lankan President's turn to display her position to exhibit her genuine involvement in the peace process.
Once it has been decided to send a high level governmental delegation to Oslo to meet with the LTTE representatives, the President Chandrika Kumaratunge has not come forward to do away with the Gazette notification, that proscribe the Tamil militants. Up to now, she has failed to take necessary action to lift the proscription imposed on the Tamil militant organization. Why?
At this point of time, the President has failed to take into cognizance of the fact that, on 27 January 1998, through an Extraordinary Gazette notification No:1012/16 of 27, the Government of Sri Lanka proscribed LTTE, under regulations promulgated under the Public Security Ordinance, effective from 26 January 1998. Under the same proscribing order, regulation (f) "Communicates or attempt to communicate to any person in any manner, any order, decision, declaration or extortion made or purported to have been made by such organization or by any member thereof or any information relating thereto for the purpose of advancing the objectives of such proscribed organization."
Accordingly, any person found guilty of an offense under the emergency regulations, who on conviction, is liable for imprisonment for a period of not less than seven years and not exceeding fifteen years. Though the establishment of contact with the LTTE both by the Government, the opposition or by any others, according to law is impeachable, though the verbiage used in the regulation is vague, and may be a little severe, depending on the interpretations, but the President has to lift the proscription order before entering on a dialogue with the LTTE.
As far as the Tamil Tigers are concerned, they have not shown any interest about their proscription, because according to them, either they were proscribed or not, they are not the least worried about it. On the other hand, this is not the case with the Government. They have to lift the proscription, before dispatching their delegates to Oslo, to enter into any dialogue with the Tamil Tigers.
Intransigence and chauvinism displayed both by the Government leaders and by the Tamil militants, have led to exacerbate the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, where thousands have been killed, millions displaced internally as well as internationally, whilst peace and harmony, yet remain, a distant mirage to the citizenry of the country. Therefore while concluding, it becomes obligatory to reproduce the prophetic pragmatic lines of Knut Vollebaek, the Norwegian Foreign Minister:
"This places heavy responsibility on the parties themselves, I am encouraged by the expressed willingness to seek a political solution. However this will take time. It will be difficult and will require courage and sacrifices. It will require the necessary political will from the parties."
Therefore, the success and failure of the negotiated political settlement, rest not with Norway, but with the Sri Lankan Government led by Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge and on the shoulders of the Tiger Supremo, Velupillai Prabakaran.
Anyhow, at this preliminary stage, things are moving smoothly and according to reliable information, the peace negotiation is on course, and Norway is expected to deliver a tangible result in the near future.