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editorial

Time to tell Norwegians to mind their own business

It was in May 2003, that Mangala Samaraweera, then in the Opposition, branded Norway a ‘nation of salmon eaters’ who have become ‘international busybodies’. That was after then Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik said that Sri Lanka should be ‘more flexible’ in dealing with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

On that occasion, while Samaraweera was chastising Norway for those sentiments, his colleague, Sarath Amunugama, was to berate the Scandinavian Premier, saying that, ‘he is not the imperial master of Sri Lanka’, while then President Chandrika Kumaratunge herself declared that, Norway had exceeded its brief and turned from facilitator to arbitrator.

Six years later, nothing seems to have changed, as far as Norway is concerned. The Norwegian most involved in the Sri Lankan peace process, Eric Solheim, who is also Norway’s Minister of Environment & Development Cooperation, continues to dabble, uninvited, in the Sri Lankan issue, even as that country’s special envoy to Sri Lanka, Jon Hanssen Bauer, says, Norway’s mediation in the matter ended in 2006.

We do not know whether the culinary preferences of Solheim include salmon but, he has certainly become an international busybody, exceeding his brief and behaving not only as an arbitrator, but almost as if he were the imperial master of Sri Lanka. His blithe disregard for international norms and conventions is highlighted by his facilitation of the contact between United Nations Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, and Kumaran Pathmanathan alias ‘KP’, a terrorist wanted by Interpol, who is also the new ‘international representative’ of the LTTE.

Of course, one could argue that Solheim can keep company with the devil himself, if he wishes to do so. Whether it is prudent to do so, while being a minister of a government that is supposedly still ‘friendly’ with Sri Lanka, is a matter for Norway to conclude. But, such governments too have obligations, especially, when events that are inimical to Sri Lankan interests take place on their soil, and that is where the Norwegian government has been found to be seriously wanting.

Of course, we wouldn’t go so far as to say that Solheim ‘facilitated’ the event by contacting KP , but the attack on the Sri Lankan embassy in Oslo, and the apathy displayed by the Norwegian authorities, in dealing with it, highlights the attitude of this country towards Sri Lanka, as well as its attitude towards the LTTE.

There was a time, when Norway was the country Sri Lankans loved to hate. That was because of their role in brokering the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with the Tigers. Although Norway was first invited to deal with the Sri Lankan issue as a facilitator, by then President Chandrika Kumaratunge, it was the United National Front government, led by then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, which entered into the CFA.

For domestic political reasons, Wickremesinghe’s opponents, including Kumaratunge, painted Norway as the villain of the peace. That was only to be expected. But Norway’s role was put to the test, when the LTTE began violating the CFA, at first, randomly, and then, almost willy-nilly. The Norwegian stance of looking the other way in these instances, incensed most Sri Lankans, who began questioning the bona fides of the Scandinavian nation.

There were murmurs that Norway was not interested in genuine peace for Sri Lanka; instead, they were allegedly eyeing possibilities of oil exploration in this country. Norway’s stocks have plummeted in the eyes of the Sri Lankan public since then, and now, stand well below zero, with the latest event unfolding in Oslo - the attack on the Sri Lankan embassy.

It doesn’t take the genius of a Solheim or a Hanssen Bauer to predict that, the Sri Lankan embassy in the Norwegian capital would be a target. In the weeks preceding that incident, the so-called Tamil ‘Diaspora’ had been organising protests against the Sri Lankan government’s military drive in the North, from London to Sydney and Toronto to Chennai. The idea was to grab international headlines and thereby, mount pressure on Colombo. Oslo, home to a large Tamil population of Sri Lankan origin, was an obvious choice as a trouble spot.

The Norwegian authorities, apparently, did nothing, despite requests for enhanced security for the Sri Lankan embassy. And their police and security apparatus were so efficient that, the attackers ran rampage at the Sri Lankan embassy located on the fifth floor of a building, causing serious damage, and then walked away scot free! All the Norwegian authorities could do thereafter, was to apologise to Colombo, and say that investigations are under way. Well, maybe they should start questioning Solheim first!

We cannot but help recall that, in the years that Norway actively mediated in the Sri Lankan conflict, there have been many protests opposite the Royal Norwegian embassy in Colombo. Slogans have been shouted and effigies burnt. Nevertheless, Sri Lankan authorities have always provided more than adequate security for the embassy, often at considerable inconvenience to the general public.

After all this, maybe it is time then, to review Sri Lanka’s relations with Oslo. The likes of Solheim, John Holmes and British Foreign Secretary David Milliband will continue to make noises, mostly in favour of the LTTE. They revel in calling for ceasefires, conveniently ignoring the fact that, when a ceasefire was in fact declared for two days, the LTTE failed to reciprocate by releasing civilians.

But the caravan of military operations has to move on. The time has come to tell the salmon eating international busybodies to mind their own business.

 

 

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