Oslo talks: D-day for SLMM

By Shimali Senanayake

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 September 1.

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 members.

"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 of the

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 month.

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 agreements.

"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 or Finns.


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