more try by Norway
By Our Political Editor
All the things happening in the country, notwithstanding,
the peace process occupies primus inter pares (first among equals)
status as far as the country's problems are concerned. And after
months upon months of aimless drifting, facilitator Norway is making
yet another initiative to restart the peace talks between the UPFA
Government and the LTTE.
diplomat and Special Advisor Erik Solheim told The Sunday Times
this week by telephone from Oslo that such a "fresh initiative"
was on hand. But, then, he declined to say what it was.
arrives in London tomorrow for an important meeting in this regard
with LTTE Chief Negotiator Anton Balasingham. The LTTE ideologue
will have to deviate from his now busy schedule of his Tour de Europe
together with the rebel group's political wing delegation to meet
with the Norwegian emissary to discuss the "new initiative".
is busy on two matters -- putting the finishing touches to his 514
page book titled 'War and Peace' a la Tolstoy, that recounts the
LTTE experience on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.
The new material in the book has hitherto undisclosed encounters
between the LTTE and the Indian Government; a critique on the Oslo
Statement and the Tokyo Declaration as well as many personal anecdotes.
On top of this, LTTE Political Wing leader, S.P. Thamilselvan, who
met Balasingham conveyed a special message from his leader, Velupillai
Prabhakaran. That was to draft a good speech for this year's "Maveerar"
or Grand Heroes day. The occasion this year will mark Prabhakaran's
tomorrow's meeting, Solheim is rushing back to Oslo to be on hand
for the arrival of the LTTE delegation led by Thamilselvan. Currently,
the LTTE delegates are in Finland and will visit two more countries
before reaching Oslo on Wednesday.
answered some more questions put to him by The Sunday Times. We
asked him whether the LTTE was amenable to discuss any alternative
to its demand for an Interim Self Governing Authority. This was
particularly in the wake of remarks in London on Thursday by a senior
LTTE member that "there is no need for us to consider counter-proposals
from the Government."
was responding to Government Spokesman Mangala Samaraweera who declared
the same day this week that the Government was ready with counter-proposals
(to the LTTE's proposal to set-up ISGA).
replied: "The LTTE has made clear its demand for ISGA is not
a 'take it or leave it' position. Of course, it insists its proposal
(ISGA) should be discussed. There will be hard bargaining and the
Government will be able to state its own position."
Sunday Times: Is there going to be any fresh initiatives to break
the deadlock and resume peace talks? Solheim: There is, but I cannot
speak about it.
clearly a new formula, which awaits the approval of both sides,
is emerging. Some of the key international players like Canada,
the United States and India seemed to be in the loop. Solheim said
both in Canada and the United States, there was full support for
the peace process and for Norway's role as a facilitator. They also
made two important requests -- to ensure the Ceasefire Agreement
remains intact and the two parties return to the negotiating table
the same sentiments were expressed by the Indian Government of Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh. This was during talks Norwegian Deputy
Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen held with his Indian counterpart.
said Helgesen's visit was to review bi-lateral relations and focused
on a number of matters besides the peace process in Sri Lanka. That
included Norway-India relations, the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan.
said after his meeting with the LTTE team in Oslo he would head
for Colombo. This was for talks with President Kumaratunga and opposition
leaders among others. However, he said no dates have still been
fixed. Diplomatic sources say the visit would take place in early
the meantime, the LTTE delegation, wearing their flannelled blazers
rather than their camouflage uniforms are meeting and greeting European
diplomats - other than those in the UK, where they remain banned
as a terrorist organisation. In Geneva they had the audacity to
hang a portrait of their leader at the hotel they booked for a meeting
with Swiss Foreign Ministry officials who thought nothing of the
event. The issue was taken up with the visiting Swiss Foreign Minister
last week in Colombo by her counterpart Lakshman Kadirgamar, but
it was dismissed as a trivia.
Finland, a previous LTTE delegation had been taken to Aaland Islands
where the Government of Finland is very keen to promote its own
example of devolution and self-determination. Our Defence Correspondent
was among a group of Sri Lankan journalists also taken there recently.
We publish alongside a critique of the Aaland Islands example by
our former Ambassador to the UN, H.L. de Silva. So we have various
countries around the world, be it Switzerland, Canada, South Africa
or Finland trying to export their shining examples of devolution
and self-determination to this miserable country, and virtually
holding those examples to the visiting rebels like some merchants
exhibiting their wares to a group of visiting business magnates,
offering them for sale.
price to be paid will be by future generations. In India, meanwhile,
Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe paid the routine courtesy
calls. It is now quite well known that though the Indian Government
in New Delhi had urged President Chandrika Kumaratunga not to hold
the April snap polls, its then envoy in Colombo, Nirupam Sen, was
instrumental in backing the JVP-PA alliance that forged ahead to
an electoral victory in those elections.
visit was, partly, to assess the mood in New Delhi, both viz-a-viz
the peace process in Sri Lanka as well as their attitude towards
him and his party, now languishing in the opposition. He reports
two things. That the Indian Government is only now gradually re-focusing
on Sri Lanka, and that at least by what Congress leader Sonia Gandhi
told him, they consider the UNP a friend, not foe.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh increasingly tied down with consensus-building
to run a coalition government like what he leads, the onus has fallen
on the Brahmins of the Foreign Ministry to keep an eye on Sri Lanka.
Jyothindra Nath Dixit, the one-time High Commissioner in Colombo,
leads the pack though External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh is
the official head of the South Block that houses the Ministry.
has seemingly not forgotten the 1987 Indo-Lanka Pact and the reception
accorded to Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi by the JVP at the time, nor the
reception accorded to the Indian Army (IPKF) by the LTTE a little
later, either. Wickremesinghe had told the Indian leaders that his
UNP stands by its always stated (though not always convincingly
stated) stance, that peace talks with the LTTE must be resumed on
the basis of the Oslo Statement and the Tokyo Declaration, and ISGA
being the LTTE's proposal. The Indian side had agreed that they
can live with that line, but certainly not with ISGA period.
one, clear, unequivocal line has emerged from the LTTE as to what
it will do with the so-called counter-proposals of the Government
of Sri Lanka (please see Editorial comment ), and whether the LTTE
insists on the implementation of ISGA before other matters are discussed.
Sometimes the same LTTE leader says different things to different
reporters and foreign representatives. Confusion seems to be the
name of the game.
LTTE's Supreme Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran has not said a word
about this entire exercise -- whether it’s ISGA first or any
such mundane issue. And nobody seems to have asked him either for
clarification. No, not even Erik Solheim.
Aaland Islands autonomy and the ISGA
By H.L. de Silva PC
Iqbal Athas in his admirable weekly
review - "Situation Report" in The Sunday Times of the
10th October has made reference to the "increased role"
which another Nordic country - Finland - has desired in the current
Sri Lankan conflict with its Tamil minority consequent on his recent
visit to the main city of the Aaland Islands which constitute a
province of Finland. Interestingly, he adds that an LTTE delegation
led by S.P.Thamilselvan had gone there earlier "to learn about
autonomy there". What did he discover? It is important that
Sri Lankans be apprised of the historical and political context
in which Finland granted autonomy to the Aaland Islands over eighty
years ago and the considerations salient to that problem, some of
which are relevant to us in Sri Lanka.
Aaland province of Finland consists of more than 6500 islands and
skerries with a land area of 599 square miles and a population of
about 25,000. Ninety percent of the population live in the largest
and main island Fasta Island. Because of its strategic location
in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland, and the dominant access
to St. Petersburg it is of great importance for the defense of all
three states. The inhabitants of the islands speak Swedish and the
linguistic difference between them and the Finnish led to the establishment
of autonomy after the rejection of a demand made in 1920 for the
Aaland Islands to be incorporated with Sweden, soon after both Finland
and the Aaland Islands became independent and ceased to be under
Russian control at the end of the first World War. Both countries
were part of the Russian Empire under the Tsars since 1809 when
Sweden lost both Finland and the Aaland Islands to Russia.
Council of the League of Nations recognized Finland's sovereignty
over the islands on a report submitted by the International Committee
of Jurists appointed by it to investigate the status of the Islands
with regard to the establishment of the Finnish Republic in the
confused state of affairs that prevailed after the dissolution of
the Russian Empire. In the view of the Committee of Jurists this
did not take place "until a stable political organization had
been created and until the public authorities had become strong
enough to assert themselves throughout the territories of the State
without the assistance of the foreign troops".
the early part of 1920, the Finnish Diet itself attempted to resolve
the matter by granting autonomy to the Aaland Islands. This autonomy
however was rejected by the Islanders. In September 1920 and the
Council of the League of Nations appointed a Commission of Rapporteurs
to study the problem and made recommendations for its solution.
The Commission of Rapporteurs found that.
was definitively constituted "which excluded any role for self-determination"
for the Aaland Islands. That the new state of Finland was simply
the part of the autonomous Territory of Finland which had always
included the Aaland Islands.
Sweden had recognized Finland without making any reservation in
its text as to the boundaries of the new State and concluded that
" the right of sovereignty of the Finnish State over the Aaland
Islands is incontestable and their present legal status is that
they form part of Finland.
regard to the foregoing facts in regard to its own history can Finland
suggest a different approach for Sri Lanka ?
As summed up by Thomas Musgrave (Self Determination and National
Commission decided that Aaland Islanders unlike the Finns, were
not a "people" but simply a "minority". "Minorities"
the Commission declared could not be treated "in the same manner
or on the same footing as a people as a whole and in particular
they were not entitled to claim any right of self-determination".(pg
36) The Report stated:
it possible to admit as an absolute rule that a minority of the
population of a State which is definitely constituted and perfectly
capable of fulfilling its duties as such, has the right of separating
itself from her in order to be incorporated in another State or
to declare its independence? The answer can only be in the negative.
To concede to minorities, either of language or of religion, or
to any fraction of a population the right of withdrawing from the
community to which they belong, because it is their wish or their
good pleasure., would be to destroy order and stability within States
and to inaugurate anarchy in international life, it would be to
uphold a theory incompatible with the very idea of the State as
a territorial and political entity.
points out that another important consideration was that Aaland
islanders, unlike the Finns had not suffered oppression at the hands
of the Finns. The Commission of Rapporteurs had concluded that oppression
would be a factor in allowing a minority to separate itself from
one State and seek union with another State. ( or as an independent
entity) ( my brackets) However this radical step would be considered
only as a last resort when the State lacks either the will or the
power to enact and apply just and effective guarantees of religious,
linguistic and social freedom. This was not the case in the Aaland
Commission of Rapporteurs noted that Finland had already offered
guarantees of a very substantial nature in the form of the law of
Autonomy of 7 May 1920 in order to reassure the Aaland Islanders
and dispel their fears of majority domination and gradual denationalization
and made further recommendations. They were incorporated with the
legal system by the 1922 Aaland Guarantee Act and further amended
several times with major amendments introduced in 1951 and 1991.
the autonomy granted, the introduction of changes into the regimes
requires an Act of the Finnish Parliament adopted in accordance
with the specific procedures for amending the Constitution as well
as the approval of the Aaland Legislative Assembly by at least a
two-thirds of the votes cast. The collaboration or agreement between
the central authorities and the province was indispensable.
the population of the Aaland Islands being virtually homogeneous
with 95% of them being Swedish speakers, the autonomy arrangements
leave the Finnish Central Government authorities with a substantial
degree of control and supervision. In contrast the ISGA virtually
ignores the right of the GOSL and does not appear to even pay lip
service to its existence. It is therefore highly unlikely that these
such autonomy arrangements will be acceptable to the LTTE who have
hitherto rejected with disdain even the prodigal bequests offered
them in 1995, 1997 and 2001.