Tigers, Norwegians show their hands
Those who have harboured suspicions of the real intentions of the LTTE in entering into peace talks might feel elated that they have not been wrong. Still others who were sceptical about the ability of the Norwegians to play a neutral and objective role as facilitators or mediators in the peace process might feel, like those who suspected the LTTE, that their doubts have not been entirely misplaced.

It is perhaps not entirely coincidental that a set of proposals from Major General (rtd) Tryggve Tellefsen, the Norwegian head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), happened to come almost at the same time as LTTE spokesman Anton Balasingham's threat to boycott the donor-nation talks due to be held in Japan in June.
There may not be any causal connection between them. But it would make the Sri Lankan government that is totally committed to achieving peace, think that the LTTE might be inveigled into attending the Japan meeting if some of the main proposals set down by the head of the SLMM are accepted.

Tellefsen's proposals include creating a separate area of the sea in the north and east in which the LTTE's naval arm, the Sea Tigers, would have control and would be distinct from the territorial sea under the jurisdiction of the Sri Lanka government and its navy. The Tellefsen proposals are intended to prevent clashes at sea between the Sri Lanka navy and the LTTE , preventing loss of life and material and consequent damage to the on-going peace talks.

They seem well-intentioned enough and the SLMM surely thought that they would be welcomed. But in ancient times they thought the same of the Trojan horse. "Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentis", wrote Virgil in the Aeneid. "Whatever it is", he said, "I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts".

Given the history of Norwegian involvement in the north through non-governmental agencies such as Redd Barna and its interest in the Sri Lankan conflict via Oslo's Peace Research Institute and its apparent bias towards one party in the conflict, Norway's role in the on-going peace talks has been questioned by many.
They have not done so because of some inherent animosity toward this Nordic country.

But questions have been asked, for instance, about Norway's commitment to human rights when its own Lutheran background and attachment to it denies certain rights to non-Lutherans. Can a Scandinavian nation that preaches human rights to others but denies some to its own people, be taken seriously?

Some might have forgotten how Norway came to be selected as the facilitator of a dialogue between the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE. When the LTTE made overtures to the Chandrika Kumaratunga government and vice versa, it was decided to allow a third country/organisation to play the role of bringing the two sides together. President Kumaratunga was asked to suggest the names of three countries/organisations, two of which happened to be Norway and the Commonwealth Secretariat in London.

The LTTE picked Norway and understandably so. There was a sizeable Tamil refugee population in Norway and Scandinavia as a whole, and Norway had already shown some sympathy for the Tamil cause.

Moreover Oslo had been engaged secretly in promoting talks between Israel and the Palestinians and the Oslo Accord that emerged was viewed as a major step forward in resolving this long-standing conflict.

President Kumaratunga would also have known that her ex-brother-in-law Kumar Rupasinghe of Jana Vegaya fame, had been closely associated with the Peace Research Institute in Oslo which he headed at one time, and had already done some work on trying to resolve the Sri Lanka conflict.

Different reasons might have prompted the two sides to settle for Norway as the "facilitator", as former foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar liked to term it -- and rightly so as it circumscribed Oslo's role.

But from Norway's standpoint, Oslo needed to stake a claim elsewhere as a peacemaker and somehow ensure a lasting result as the Accord on the Middle East was coming unstuck.

Norway's entry as peacemaker made several knowledgeable Sri Lankans unhappy and suspicious that Oslo's intentions as an impartial third party were questionable. If they were only suspicions then there is proof today that if Oslo entered the process with acceptable credentials it has abandoned them.

I don't know in which army Major General Tellefsen served. But right now it looks like the Salvation Army and his only interest is the salvation of the LTTE. Perhaps it is this Major General's ignorance of maritime law, the laws governing territorial waters and other relevant treaties and conventions that has led him to come up with such a proposal that equates a sovereign country with its territorial waters and an organisation with an illegal armed fleet.

However one looks at it, Major-General Tellefsen's highly inappropriate suggestion would lead to a major calamity. What with the SLMM's curious and laughable finding of a possible "third party", armed and dangerous operating in our northeastern waters the monitoring mission has made a serious omission. That is to nail the LTTE for sinking the Chinese ship and killing its crew.

As a sea faring nation, one would expect the Norwegians to be more sensible and logical about the incident without being haunted by ghostly third parties that appear to vanish as quickly as Tellefsen's reasoning.

The LTTE has fared no better. It is peeved that it was not a participant at this month's Washington meeting called by the American government. The LTTE has nobody else to blame but itself. If the LTTE's own activities led the US to ban it as a terrorist organisation surely the Tigers cannot expect Washington to bend the law to allow the LTTE to participate. The fact is that the LTTE is not welcome in the US. If the LTTE wishes to become a legally acceptable organisation in the US then it must publicly renounce terrorism and the use of violence.

Surely Balasingham is not that naïve that he does not know this. The LTTE cannot have it both ways. It cannot reserve for itself the right to engage in terrorist activities and unleash violence and be welcomed with bouquets at the same time. One reason the LTTE cites for the suspension of the talks and the boycott of the Japan meeting is that monies pledged at the Oslo meeting by donors have not been disbursed by the Sri Lanka government.

Balasingham should know that the disbursement of foreign funds is not like running a corner boutique at Wembley where money is immediately paid or credit given for a month. Foreign funds take a long time in coming. If that is one of the LTTE complaints then boycotting the Japan meeting is as good as looking up and spitting. If that meeting is postponed because of LTTE pique, then funds that might be committed at that conference would take even longer reaching Sri Lanka. If money is all that important, then the donor conference should be held sooner not later.

But if this suspension is to hold the Sri Lanka government to ransom and have the international community pressure Colombo, Balasingham's slip is showing. US ambassador Ashley Wills' statement should make the LTTE sit up and think. It can no longer play the bully.

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