By Upul Joseph Fernando
Southern extremists are now attempting to gain undue political advantage of the recent visit by the Norwegian Foreign Minister who was on a brief visit to Colombo. These extremists used anti-Norway slogans in 2004 and 2005 elections to gain victory. Norway was invited to mediate in the Sri Lankan peace process in 2000 by the Chandrika Kumaratunga administration.
However, in 2002 she extended her support to the anti-Norway moves to topple Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Government. Mahinda Rajapaksa who was the Opposition Leader in 2002 had close and cordial relations with Norway. But after winning the 2005 presidential election, Mahinda turned his back to Norway. Later in the same year he tried to befriend Norway to get round Velupillai Prabhakaran. Former Norwegian Foreign Minister Erik Solheim disclosed this fact at the launch of Mark Slater’s book on the Norway’s peace affairs. Solhiem disclosed that Mahinda was ready to give self-rule to Prabhakaran without holding an election to rule the North and the East.
This is exactly what Solhien said at that book launch: “Rajapaksha wanted to do a backroom deal to make Prabhakaran the Leader there. He portrayed himself as the great saviour of the Sinhalese, but was ready for any dirty deal for his own survival and if it helped his political fortunes”. Mahinda opposed Norway after Prabhakaran rejected the Norway offer. Mahinda criticized Norway at the last presidential election to win the Sinhala Buddhist vote. In the penultimate stage of the election campaign, Mahinda charged that Solhiem gave money to the LTTE. However, that charge of Mahinda failed to win him the election. Though the Southern Extremists plan to gain political advantage from the recent visit of the Norway Foreign Minister, they cannot attract opposition to Norway within the country. That’s because the anti-Norway slogans are outdated and the people are fed up with of such unworthy tactics.
Ms. Sirima Bandaranaike’s regime
Norway started relations with Sri Lanka during Ms. Sirima Bandaranaike’s regime. There was an economic crisis in the country when Dr. N.M. Perera was the Finance Minister in the 1970 United Front Government. N.M. followed socialist policies and many donor agencies were reluctant to assist Sri Lanka. That was the period Ms. Bandaranaike decided to start relations with Norway. She embarked upon a visit to Norway to seek economic assistance. The following is an extract of the address of the then Norwegian Premier at the dinner hosted in honour of Ms. Bandaranaike: “For the first time we have the pleasure and the honour to have the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka visiting Norway. Under the leadership of your great husband and under your leadership, Madam, Sri Lanka has created an image of its own. Your country is confronted with the same complex of problems, as in the majority of developing countries. We appreciate that you have taken a number of policy measures, which many governments ought to take, and wish to take, but which few of them do take. I am referring to your far-reaching land reform, to your ambitious programme to expand general education, to your measures to establish national control of important sectors of the economy, and to your public health programme which also contains an important element of family planning.
Throughout the world Sri Lanka is known for its balanced and wise performance in international matters. Without compromising the unconditional claims for a new economic world order, Sri Lanka has contributed largely to ensure continued negotiations between the nations of the world, both in UNCTAD and elsewhere. We have a deep respect for the way in which you have executed the chairmanship of the group of non aligned countries. Thereby, you have contributed substantially to increase the respect for your country as well as for the group of non-aligned countries. The Norwegian Government attaches great importance to increase the financial flow to the developing world and to the urgent need for a reorganization of the world economy, a new economic order.
At the recent conference on trade and development in Nairobi, we found no difficulties in supporting the proposal to create a common fund as a part of an integrated raw material programme. We regret that so few industrialized countries were able to follow us at this occasion. It is a main task for us to participate in the further preparatory work which eventually will create the new economic world order. However, on our side, we must also pay attention to the internal problems of structural change in employment and production in our own economy.
The national acceptance in Norway of the new economic order is dependent on a successful solution of these structural problems. Therefore, a certain delay may be needed in the implementation to allow the necessary adjustments to take place. Another topic which directly affects both Sri Lanka and Norway is the Law of the Sea. The work on new international conventions in this field has to a large extent been influenced by Sri Lanka and Mr. Amerasinghe, her Ambassador at the UN and president of the 31st General Assembly, as president for the conference on the Law of the Sea. Unfortunately the last conference in New York did not arrive at conclusive results and further work and discussions are necessary. However, I am convinced that the outstanding problems will be solved, not least through yours country’s mediation and negotiating efforts.
In recent years there has been a considerable increase in contacts between Sri Lanka and Norway. Norwegian participation in development projects and tourism may be mentioned. The Norwegian Good Templar Youth Association has been engaged in development projects since 1967, and three other private organizations have successively taken up the challenge, Save the Children, The Church’s Relief Fund and the Norwegian Housewives’ Association.
The government has proposed the opening of an official development cooperation programme with Sri Lanka. Detailed discussions on this programme may take place already before the end of the year, if this is acceptable to the Government of Sri Lanka. Your Excellency, we know that all your tasks do not leave many openings in your programme. We are, therefore, honoured that you could make this official visit to Norway. This is a good omen for our future relations. The time will not allow you to see much of the country at this occasion, but we hope that we may have a later opportunity to show you how people live and work also in other parts of the country. Let me conclude by proposing a toast to the health of Her Excellency Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, to the progress and prosperity of Sri Lanka and its people and to the friendship between our two countries”.
It was Ms.Bandaranaike who introduced the CeyNor Foundation to develop the fisheries industry in Sri Lanka. The first phase of that project was launched at Hambantota. That was sequel to a request made to Ms.Bandaranaike by Mahinda Rajapaksa. Mahinda proudly claimed at that time that it was he who introduced development to Hambantota. When Mahinda became the Fisheries Minister in 1994, the CeyNor Foundation continued to assist him. Norway got involved in the Sri Lankan peace process from 2000 at the invitation of Chandrika Kumaratunga. Chandrika made that move in the face of heightened attacks by the LTTE which pushed her government against the wall.
When the Norwegians arrived in 2000, the LTTE had virtually dismantled many Army detachments in the North and was standing at the entrance to Jaffna. If not for the arrival and mediation of Norway, the LTTE would have captured Jaffna and declared a separate State in the North and East. The Norway mediated peace process halted such a national calamity. Norway’s mediation truly weakened the LTTE. When Mahinda’s Government launched fierce attacks on the LTTE and weakened it, the LTTE sought assistance from Norway but Mahinda disallowed that process. He even thwarted the attempt by Norway to save the LTTE cadres who tried to surrender carrying white flags.
The LTTE was destroyed by its’ own faults Norway claimed. Despite that claim, we do not know whether Norway accepts the fact her involvement as a facilitator in the peace process was responsible for the weakening of the LTTE. Though Norway came to assist the Sri Lankan Government at a time the latter was in a weak position in 2000, Norway may have regretted that it could not forge a ceasefire when the LTTE was in a weak position. However, the Norwegian Foreign Minister did not visit Sri Lanka last week in an effort to compensate that regret. He came to strengthen economic relation with Sri Lanka. That was demonstrated by the statements made by the Norwegian Foreign Minister whilst he was staying on the Sri Lankan soil.