D-day for SLMM
Amidst continuing fears of an all-out war, Norway
has called a crucial meeting of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission
on Thursday to decide on the future of the monitors.
According to a top official, the options for the
SLMM include a downsizing of its mission with offices only in Colombo
and Kilinochchi, increasing its strength with monitors from Iceland
and Norway or even suspending operations altogether.
“Halting the Mission is a last resort but
it is an option,” SLMM spokesman Thorfinnur Omarsson told
The Sunday Times.
He said it would be upto Norway to decide.
The SLMM began weighing its limited options ahead
of the crucial meeting in Oslo on Thursday June 29.
The main purpose is to discuss the LTTE’s
four-week deadline for 37 monitors from Sweden, Denmark and Finland
to quit. However last night the LTTE extended this deadline until
Mr. Omarsson confirmed that the intimation of
the deadline extension was given yesterday by the LTTE to Norway.
“Obviously nine weeks are better than four
weeks. It gives us some breathing space, but we need six months
to get monitors to replace EU nationals. At this point we still
do not know if we can reorganize the SLMM and recruit a complete
mission by September 1,” he said.
The government, however, is strongly opposed to
the LTTE demand. The government has told Norwegian peace brokers
it is not “wedded” to the composition of the SLMM.
Senior government officials said yesterday Colombo
was even willing to amend the cease-fire or include an addendum
to ensure the future functioning of the truce mission with non-Nordic
"If the monitors from the EU countries say
they cannot function here because the LTTE has failed to assure
their security, we will understand," a top government official
said. "But not because of the EU ban."
The LTTE formally said on Wednesday that the neutrality
Swedes, Danes and Finns had been marred, as the
countries from which those monitors come belong to the European
Union, which included the LTTE in its list of terror groups last
This is despite the Tigers being repeatedly told
that these monitors do not represent their individual countries
but an independent monitoring organ.
The government has accused the LTTE of laying
down a "hostile deadline," of one-month and assured the
monitoring mission of support to carry out its mandate.
If the 37 monitors exit, the SLMM will be left
with just 16 from Norway and four from Iceland. Norwegian peace-brokers
have said the LTTE’s decision was regrettable.
"The LTTE's demand that SLMM monitors from
EU countries be replaced is deeply regrettable and will weaken the
SLMM in a critical period," Norway's International Development
Minister Erik Solheim said in a statement.
The government has stressed that any changes to
the composition of the SLMM cannot be a decision between Norway
and the LTTE, and that the Sri Lankan government has to be an integral
part of the decision-making process.
Norway has invited the five countries from which
monitors have been co-opted to make up the SLMM to a meeting on
Thursday, in Oslo, to discuss the safety, future and function of
the SLMM, following the LTTE's demand.
But the government has made it clear that any
decision taken at the meeting will have to be vetted subsequently
by Colombo. Article 3.5 of the Cease-fire Agreement clearly states
that the SLMM will consist of 'Nordic' monitors.
The government also signed a separate Status of
Mission Agreement or SOMA, with Norway on March 18, 2002 spelling
out the status of the monitors. Any change in the composition to
bring in non-Nordic monitors calls for an amendment to both these
"These are matters that require negotiations
by all parties concerned and cannot be addressed unilaterally to
respond to the unreasonable sensitivities and the intransigent attitude
of the LTTE," a statement from the Secretariat for Coordinating
the Peace Process said.Norway had asked for six months to facilitate
the transition and find substitutes for the EU monitors but the
LTTE insisted on a deadline of four weeks.
Whether the LTTE’s demand will be acceded
to or a compromise worked out, will be clear only after Thursday's
meeting. According to the LTTE's demand, current SLMM chief Ulf
Henricsson and his deputy Tommy Lakenmyr will have to quit their
posts in less than a month because they are Swedish. So will Swedish
chief of operations and also the head of logistics.
To re-appoint heads for the mission would take
a minimum of two months. This would include calling in applications,
shortlisting and holding interviews. And as one European diplomat
put it, "It's like poya in Europe during July and August,"
with most out on summer vacations.
The LTTE threats against the security of the monitors
will be a prime focus at Thursday's meeting, officials involved
in the process said on condition of anonymity. It is highly unlikely
the Europeans will be willing to function in the North and East
without adequate guarantees to their safety.
The SLMM currently operates six district offices
in Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara.
It maintains a liaison office in Kilinochchi and Naval monitoring
in Jaffna and Trincomalee which is now at a standstill. The heads
of all the six districts as well as naval monitors are either Swedes