Surrender would have saved thousands of lives: Solheim

From Chandani Kirinde in Oslo

Norway which has welcomed the appointment of a United Nations panel said yesterday it had failed to persuade both the Government and the Tiger guerrillas to stop the fighting last year after the two sides had rejected its overtures.

Former peace facilitator and International Development Minister Erik Solheim told the Sunday Times in an interview, “We called upon the LTTE to come to an organized stop (or surrender). If it had happened, thousands of lives would have been saved. The war would have ended under the supervision of the UN, the United States, India or someone else. However, the LTTE rejected that call.”

Erik Solheim

Mr. Solheim said thereafter he was in constant touch with President Mahinda Rajapaksa to “find a way to stop the fighting” by getting a UN representative to talk to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. “All these were rejected for different reasons by the Government and the LTTE,” Mr. Solheim said.

Earlier, during a meeting with a group of Sri Lankan journalists, Mr. Solheim said his country supported the panel named by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to advise him on accountability issues in Sri Lanka. “I have heard the criticism of that panel by my friend, External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris and others. There is broad international support for the decision. The personalities of the panel have a long standing good international reputation,” he said.

Mr. Solheim said that on May 17 last year, he received a telephone call from LTTE leaders B. Nadesan and S. Pulithevan. They had appealed to him to arrange for a surrender. They had also made similar appeals to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN. “We passed the information to the Government. We told the two LTTE leaders that their offer came too late.

I told them if they wished to surrender, they would have to raise white flags and give themselves up, he said. “A few hours later, we heard they were dead,” he added. Asked whether he communicated the appeal of the two LTTE leaders to the Government, Mr. Solheim said, “this information was clearly given to the Government.”

He said he would not go into the matter of whom the information was provided. He also said there were “others” involved in the surrender dialogue but declined to name them.

Mr. Solheim said he was “unfairly” treated by the Sri Lankan media. “Not that there should be no criticism but you must distinguish between fair criticism and blatant lies. There were a lot of blatant lies.”
Speaking on the prospects of peace in Sri Lanka, Mr. Solheim said, “I tell the Tamil diaspora there is no appetite for war, there is no international support for resumption of war. However, there is broad international support for Tamil rights in Sri Lanka.”

He said Sri Lanka should “adhere to the same standards of minority rights that there are in India, Indonesia or Malaysia.” He pointed out that in India, minorities had group rights on the basis of language and other issues. “Take the southern Indian states. They have a lot of rights there. There will be a lot of support for political rights but no support for the resumption of war. That is the position of Norway and that is the position of most governments in the world.”

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