ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 18
Front Page Columns
Thoughts from London

So what was that you said Prime Minister?

By Neville De Silva

It was meant to sound like some of those intimate details that are recorded in magazines that supposedly carry true confessions. There was the Norwegian Prime Minster Jens Stoltenberg telling President Rajapaksa that statements made by the now retired head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission did not reflect the views of his government.

No wonder Colombo seized on that and issued a press release on the Rajapaksa-Stoltenberg meeting in New York where both were attending the UN General Assembly sessions.

Norwegian Prime Minster Jens Stoltenberg

Well it seems there was an official release. Otherwise it is rather difficult to comprehend how the government-run Daily News and another daily reported the meeting in exactly the same words- unless, of course, great minds agree even unto to the last diphthong, as it were.

Pardon the resort to an archaic preposition such as “unto”. It is perhaps a hangover from the past during my days in Sri Lanka when politicians attempted, as the media then called it and perhaps still do, a fast unto death. I remember covering the so-called death fasts of F.R. Jayasuriya, K.M.P. Rajaratne and some Federal Party chaps.

As far as I remember none of them died-not from fasting anyway. Perhaps the newspaper references to some of these antics which, publicly at least, were premature efforts to enter the next world, as “fast unto death” probably elevated them above the mundane of simple death fasts.

Such media coverage and the resort to old English gave those who wished to die something to live for, helped, no doubt, by large doses of glucose in their glasses of water.

Or perhaps it was the sudden influence of Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar’s use of the archaic as he did when writing a rather terse letter to a local daily some weeks ago taking umbrage at the assertion that the Norwegians had a hand in trying to push through an anti-Sri Lankan resolution in the European parliament.

But I digress and for that a thousand apologies. I was on this question of what I believe was an official Sri Lanka Government statement issued after President Rajapaksa and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg had discussions in New York.

Among other things the statement said that President Rajapaksa expressed concerns over recent statements attributed to Major-General Ulf Henricsson, the former head of the Nordic truce-monitoring mission. Henricsson recently accused government forces of massacring 17 civilian workers employed by a French relief organisation.

“Jens Stoltenberg assured President Rajapaksa that Henricsson’s statements did not reflect the views of his government.”

No wonder Colombo was eager to get this out to the world for Henricsson’s departing report formed the basis for some harsh words against Sri Lanka from some governments and human rights organisations.

One does not know of course whether President Rajapaksa pursued this Norwegian assurance to its logical conclusion and asked the prime minister which of Henricsson’s particular statements did not reflect Oslo’s position.

Perhaps Rajapaksa was too polite to ask the prime minister to expand on that.

But if I were Rajapaksa-which of course, I am not- I would have wanted Stoltenberg to expatiate in case there was some misunderstanding later. After all it was only days before that his cabinet colleague and special peace envoy Erik Solheim had told the so-called Co-chairs that the government and LTTE had agreed to unconditional talks, later denied by both sides.

So it was only fair by all parties to have had the air cleared.

Perhaps it is my media background but personally it is difficult to accept because this general statement leaves a lot of loose ends and is not in the least conclusive. One would have hoped that the media, particularly those who accompanied the president and his particularly massive entourage, had asked the president whether the Norwegian prime minister mentioned any specific statements with which he and his government were not in agreement.

If the occasion for such questioning did not arise or the president was playing it close to his chest and did not wish to reveal any more, surely this should have been pursued in Colombo through the Norwegian embassy.

As I said it was not too long ago that Ambassador Brattskar was waxing eloquently about not revealing sources and how decency demanded that his embassy be asked to comment on matters that affected his country.

So the time has come, as the tortoise told the carpenter, to talk of many things, especially all those statements that Ulf Henricsson made which did not square with Norwegian government thinking.

Let us consider some of the most important issues raised by Henricsson in his final report. Had any undergraduate submitted such a superficial, unsubstantiated piece of work, he would have been torn apart by his tutor.

This chap Henricsson was even paid for such shoddy work which the “international community”, whatever that is, appears to have accepted without question.

That alone shows that this international community-and that includes the all-froth-and-no-beer self publicists such as Amnesty International that has fallen today from the great heights it once occupied- has lost the sense of inquiry and scrutiny it should exercise in situations such as this anywhere in the world.

There is not a single concrete piece of corroborative evidence that Henricsson cites to support the conclusion he draws with regard to the killing of the aid workers. Why has he not stated what some of the persons he interviewed actually said that led him to conclude the army was responsible for the massacre? If he really had such vital information would he have excluded them from the report even though he was in a hurry to write his valedictory denunciation of Sri Lanka? Surely not, for Henricsson must have known that such evidence would only strengthen his conclusions not detract from them.

Is it not surprising that the international community, especially those from the west that preach about the rule of law, has not asked itself these questions and sought hard evidence before damning a nation.

Another intriguing question is whether Norway and its agents had a hand in making most of the Henricsson report to make the EU believe that they were wrong to declare the LTTE a terrorist organisation and influence a rethink in policy.

It is in the light of all this that Prime Minister Stoltenberg’s remark cries out for clarification and definition.

It is now for Sri Lanka and its media to seek this from the Norwegian embassy or those peace-makers like Erik Solheim and Jan Hanssen-Bauer that turn up so often as though on some Nordic expedition. Stoltenberg might be prime minister of Norway. But he has an obligation to the people of Sri Lanka to make explicit his remark and state clearly which statements of Ulf Henricssen he and his government do not go along with.

If he dissociates himself and his administration from some or many of Henricssen’s statements do they include critical parts of his report. Or is he referring to some passing remarks that have little or no significance.

Stoltenberg owes it not only to the people of Sri Lanka but also to his own citizens who are not all particularly enamoured of Norway’s role in this so-called peace process.

The loquacious Ambassador Hans Brattskar seems suddenly to have taken a vow of silence and let our challenge to him two weeks ago pass unanswered.

Here is the opportunity for him to say which of Ulf Henricssen’s scurrilous statements fail to reflect the views of the Norwegian government.

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