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Tamilnation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Norwegian Peace Initiative > Sri Lanka Army suffers further major debacles > Eric Solheim sidelined and LTTE ban
Eric Solheim sidelined and LTTE ban
P. Ramasamy in Malaysiakini 15 June 2001
It is always difficult to tell when the Sri Lankan government is going to take peace efforts seriously in the country. It was expected that after the recent military debacle in northern Jaffna, the Sri Lankan government would use the good office of the special Norwegian peace envoy Eric Solheim to talk with the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE). But like elsewhere peace is seems to become more and more elusive in the country.
There are two reasons why the peace initiative has bogged down. One is the general reluctance of the Sri Lankan government to lift the proscription on the LTTE. While the government is always urging the LTTE to come forward for peace talks, the pre-conditions for talks are not there.
While the LTTE is open to discussions, it insists that it cannot engage in any meaningful participation without the government lifting the ban imposed some years ago. Even suggestions by some independent parties for the government to remove the restriction have fallen on the deaf ears of the government.
Within the Tamil circles, it is widely acknowledged that without the LTTE’s participation in peace talks, permanent peace will never materialise in the country. Thus, for peace to happen, they feel strongly that the government should lift the ban on the LTTE.
The government’s position on the proscription is one of general murkiness. While it constantly calls on other countries to pressure the LTTE to come for talks, it is not prepared, at least for the time being, to lift the ban on the LTTE.
It is argued that since the LTTE is a “terrorist” organisation, the question of lifting the ban does not arise. It is not that the government does not realise the folly of such an argument; but the need to please Sinhala right-wing reactionary forces makes it difficult for the proscription to be lifted, even for a temporary period.
The present impasse on peace talks have been complicated by a second factor - the sidelining of Eric Solheim as the chief peace negotiator by the Sri Lankan government. Apparently this move to sideline Eric Solheim was done without any consultation with the LTTE.
It has been argued in some circles that the move by the government to marginalise Solheim was undertaken to ensure that the Norwegian party is not too sympathetic to the Tamil cause. It is not that Solheim was not objective in his role, but rather his integrity and independence were not very desirable to the government that wanted the Norwegian party to back it on some issues. The sidelining of Solheim has not gone well with the LTTE because it was not consulted on this matter.
From the beginning of the Norwegian involvement in the peace process, the Sri Lankan government has not been very happy with the role of the Solheim. His visits to the country and talks with the various people including government officials, LTTE personnel, and others gave him an objective picture of the total situation.
The random killings of civilians and the legtimacy of the Tamil cause ensured that he would pursue peace talks with objectivity and sincerity. But the government was not very happy with these qualities and they expected Solheim to go along with it on some issues, even though these were antithetical to the Tamil cause.
More importantly, it was the failure on the part of the Sri Lankan government to solicit agreement from Solheim that made the former unhappy with the latter.
Contrary to the government, the LTTE saw in Solheim an experienced and a very objective diplomat committed to the peace cause. He might not have understood the Tamil cause in the manner the LTTE would have wanted him, but nonetheless it was very impressed by the sincerity of the diplomat.
His few visits to the Vanni areas and talks with various groups of Tamils could have given him the rare insights that often elude diplomats and peace negotiators. If the Sri Lankan government was not happy with Solheim, the matter could have been conveyed to the LTTE, but the former took no responsibility in doing so.
Rather, they took the rather unusual step of removing Solheim from the peace process by appealing to a higher authority in Norway. So it would be rather difficult for the LTTE to accept another Norwegian party just because the government finds it desirable to do so.
Meanwhile, the LTTE has come out with many statements criticising the government for sidelining the peace process by belittling the role of Solheim. Over the last eighteen years or so, Sri Lanka has been oscillating between war and peace. Every time peace came within grasp, something takes place to make it difficult.
The matter of Solheim could be resolved if the new party from Norway shows the same sincerity and commitment shown by the former, but the problem of proscription of the LTTE will remain. This will be the crucial issue that will determine whether the LTTE enters into peace negotiations.
The LTTE is not opposed to a peaceful and meaningful settlement of the Tamil problem. It showed its sincerity earlier by declaring a unilateral ceasefire which lasted nearly four months and at the cost of losing more than 160 cadres and imposing terrible inconvenience on the civilian Tamil population in the north and east of the country.
The question is simple - if the government can invite the LTTE for peace negotiations than what is the necessity for the proscription? India, the United States and the United Kingdom might have their reasons for the proscription of the LTTE, but Sri Lanka is not in the same boat.
It has no choice but to sit down with the LTTE to thrash out the Tamil
problem once and for all.
P RAMASAMY is a professor of political economy at the Political Science Department, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and has academic interests in Malaysian politics and labour. He has written quite extensively and is currently focusing on conflict management in Sri Lanka.