There Needs To Be Political Will – Erik Solheim

By Easwaran Rutnam

Erik-SolThe Norwegian Government played a key role in mediating between the Government and the LTTE during the war, including under the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government. However as soon as the LTTE was defeated the Norwegians were accused by many within the Government of playing into the hands of the LTTE and being biased towards the rebels. The man who took center stage as Norwegian mediator is former Minister Erik Solheim. Yet active on expressing his views on Sri Lanka, Solheim told The Sunday Leader, he is still fully convinced the peace process could have succeeded.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q: Sri Lanka is this week celebrating five years since the end of the war. As a former mediator in the Sri Lankan conflict do you think there is a lot to celebrate in Sri Lanka today?
 A: There is every reason to celebrate the fact that Sri Lanka is at peace. Many have been able to rebuild there lives.
But it is very sad that five years after 2009 democracy is threatened, religious minorities attacked and no efforts taken to meet Tamil aspirations for power-sharing.

Q: Based on the contacts you had with the Sri Lankan Government both the UNP and the current regime, did you ever think they were genuine in their efforts to end the conflict with the LTTE through negotiation?
A: I am fully convinced both the UNP and the SLFP were serious in seeking peace. Both Chandrika and Ranil were genuine. Peace is not easy, but they definitely tried. I am still fully convinced the peace process could have succeeded.

Q: Where did the LTTE go wrong which eventually led to the death of their leader?
A: After the death of Balasingham in 2006 the LTTE leader had none to give him unsolicited advice. Prabhakaran did not understand the world outside Sri Lanka and made huge military and political mistakes. It is always dangerous when one individual makes all strategic decisions within a state or a movement.

Q: What is your view on the Sri Lankan Government’s decision to list several Tamil Diaspora members including some in Norway?
 A: It will lead nowhere. Hardly any government outside Sri Lanka takes it seriously since it mixes up extremists with nearly all Tamils working for legitimate Tamil demands with Gandhian methods. If you try to make normal political work illegal, you drive Tamils towards desperation. Many Tamils already see it as a list of honor.

Q: Where have countries like India failed in ensuring true reconciliation in Sri Lanka?
 A: India was a resolute backer of the peace process all along. There are lots of rumours to the contrary, just forget them! It is too early to say what a Modi government will bring.
But I am fully convinced we will see more Indian popular support for the peaceful struggle of Sri Lankan Tamils when the Rajiv Gandhi killing disappears into history. Stronger Indian engagement is just a matter of time.

Q: As a former peace negotiator do you see a way there can be peace between the Tamil Diaspora and the Sri Lankan Government?
 A: For sure.
It is a matter of political will. But the main responsibility is always with the most powerful actor.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa should reach out.
He should send people to meet the diaspora, ask their views on the situation in the island, invite people from the Diaspora to invest and use their remarkable capacities to the best of Sri Lanka, particularly the northeast.
Q: Do you agree with the Sri Lankan Government’s view that the pressure being exerted by the international community on the accountability issue will hurt the peace in Sri Lanka?
 A: Definitely not. The pressure being exerted by the US and other actors is helpful.
None can forget the unnecessary killing of tens of thousands of civilians.
If the government wants to get this pressure relieved, why doesn`t it initiate a meaningful dialogue with the TNA on Tamil demands?
Why doesn`t it restore democracy and put a full stop to human rights abuses?