Norwegian Peace Initiative
Tiger diplomacy makes headway
Sutha Nadarajah, Tamil Guardian, 4 December 2002
"...The increasing ease with which the LTTE is
able to engage the international community is having an impact
on the movement's ability to articulate its political cause
The 'Sri Lanka Peace Support Meeting' held in Oslo
on November 25 was intended, as stated by the Norwegian hosts, as a
'political event' to demonstrate international support for their
peace initiative in Sri Lanka, with the $70million emergency aid
pledged being seen as a secondary, albeit important, objective. But
another key and controversial aspect of the event has been the
participation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at the
landmark summit. The movement's seat at the conference in which
nineteen countries from four continents participated has been viewed
by its supporters and detractors alike as a barometer of the LTTE's
new international standing.
The strong statement on the day by US Assistant Secretary of State
Richard Armitage and India's refusal to send a delegation Delhi was
represented at the opening ceremony by a local embassy diplomat has
been cited by the LTTE's critics as evidence of the movement's
continuing international isolation. In his address to the assembled
delegates Mr. Armitage urged the Liberation Tigers to make a "public
renunciation of terrorism and of violence" and to abandon the goal
of Tamil independence. But the LTTE, on the hand, saw itself
"gaining international acceptance and respectability" from its
participation at the event, according to the head of its Political
Wing, Mr. S. P. Tamilselvan.
The answer as to which view is more accurate needs to be discerned
not only from the events of the day itself, but also from the
conference's position in the chronology of international diplomatic
activity involving the LTTE over the past year since the Norwegian
peace initiative in Sri Lanka began to make real progress and the
island became the subject of sudden and considerable international
The matter of the LTTE's international legitimacy remains a vital
part of the ethnic question particularly for the Sinhala right. It
has assumed such emotive heights now that press attention was even
directed as to whether or not British Development Minister Clare
Short looked at the LTTE delegates during her address to the Oslo
meeting she did, later warmly applauding LTTE Chief Negotiator Anton
Balasingham's own speech to the conference.
Also contrary to earlier Sri Lankan press speculation, Mr. Armitage
also returned to his seat after the first break to listen to Mr.
Balasingham's address. Before the Oslo conference, press reports had
said the United States and Britain intended to cold shoulder the
LTTE at the event and focussed on whether India would attend.
The LTTE is banned in all three countries. It is also included
amongst organizations deemed to be engaged in terrorism by Canada
and Australia, both of which also attended the conference.
Perhaps conscious of the considerable controversy brewing in
Colombo, British and American delegations avoided what might be
perceived as fraternisation with LTTE delegates at least while the
media was present forcing some sophisticated logistic choreography
by Norwegian Foreign Ministry officials as delegates took their
seats for the opening ceremony at the Holmenkollen Park Hotel Rica.
Nevertheless, "the US's participation is significant and we are very
pleased that Mr. Armitage came," Mr. Balasingham told reporters
after the conference.
But other countries, including those with domestic bans on the LTTE
and closely allied to UK and US, exhibited no such reservations and
at the event's conclusion, reporters saw diplomats from several
countries involved in discussions with Mr. Balasingham and other
senior LTTE delegates. The media was permitted to attend the opening
addresses and concluding press conference only.
Behind the closed doors of the conference Norway's delegation, led
by Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helegesen, chaired the meeting,
flanked by the LTTE delegation to their left and the Government of
Sri Lankan delegation to their right. Diplomats from other countries
took their seats crammed in around the large conference table as the
joint appeal of the LTTE and GoSL for rehabilitation assistance was
read out and discussed.
Apart from this main event on Monday, senior LTTE delegates held
bilateral closed door meetings with key governments, including those
with domestic bans on the Tamil Tigers, officials told reporters,
speaking on condition of anonymity. Some meetings took place on
Sunday and Tuesday also, they added.
The emergent diplomatic acceptability of the LTTE which is felt to
enable such high profile international engagement with the movement
has provoked considerable acrimony in Colombo, where the Sinhala
right is bitterly critical of the ruling United National Front (UNF)
government for 'permitting' the LTTE onto the world stage.
A week before the Oslo event, for example, Sri Lanka's main
opposition People's Alliance (PA) party criticized the conference,
Norway's peace role in Sri Lanka and the international community for
'rewarding terrorism' through the meeting. In a statement drafted by
former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadrigamar, the PA said it "is
disturbed by the impending accommodation of the LTTE, on a level of
parity with the Government of Sri Lanka, at the forthcoming talks to
be held in Oslo." The PA also condemned Norway's role in the peace
process as "no longer impartial" and said "the signal that will go
out from Oslo is that, notwithstanding resounding universal
declarations that terrorism must be resisted in all its
manifestations, terrorism will in fact be rewarded when the
interests of certain donor countries merge with the interests of a
terrorist group," he said.
The context of the present controversy over the LTTE's standing
emerged in the late nineties when, along with a comprehensive
military onslaught against the Tamil Tigers, the PA government of
President Chandrika Kumaratunga also launched an international
diplomatic offensive against the movement. Led by Mr. Kadirgamar,
the objective of the latter was to politically marginalise the LTTE
by securing its proscription in as many countries as possible. The
US banned the organization in 1997, Britain in early 2001, Australia
and Canada in late 2001. India banned the LTTE in 1991, accusing it
of assassinating Premier Rajiv Gandhi. Whilst vilifying the Tigers
abroad the PA also maintained a blackout on LTTE held areas of the
island, blocking access to the international press and Colombo's
diplomatic community. Sri Lanka's ban in 1998 further restricted
possibilities of contact. But since the United National Front (UNF)
government assumed power last December and engaged resolutely in the
Norwegian peace initiative, the LTTE's diplomatic contacts have
grown considerably, resulting in a sea change in the movement's
profile access to the international diplomatic space and hence to
Firstly, the mutual ceasefire signed by the movement and the UNF
government includes a multinational (mainly Nordic) monitoring team
which has a presence in all of the island's Tamil provinces.
Secondly, the lifting of the embargo on Tamil areas has permitted
the international press and diplomats unfettered access to LTTE
controlled areas. Colombo's de-proscription of the LTTE early
September further improved matters.
Thirdly, considerable diplomatic engagement between the LTTE and
international governments is being conducted through Mr.
Balasingham's offices in London, according to LTTE officials.
In the past six months, the LTTE has met at its Vanni Political
Headquarters with diplomatic delegations from Britain, China, the
European Union, Japan, Canada, and Australia amongst other
countries. The authority of the diplomatic delegations which are
often led by High Commissioners or Ambassadors or sometimes more
senior officials and the depth of the issues discussed is
undoubtedly based on the movement's standing as a key player in Sri
Lanka's future and thereby represents the practical ineffectiveness
of the PA's international campaign to marginalise the LTTE. But,
perhaps understandably, the issue of the LTTE's proscriptions abroad
has become an ideological line in the sand for Sinhala hardliners,
with considerable anxious attention focussed on the possibilities of
changes in the various bans around the world.
These proscriptions have also, as the movement repeatedly warned
they would, now become a serious impediment to a political solution
to the island's conflict. In mid-September the LTTE announced in the
wake of the first direct talks with the Sri Lankan government in
Thailand that it was seeking internal self-determination for the
Tamils as its key objective. Mr. Balasingham, the LTTE's political
advisor, also said the movement was keen to explore 'federal or
confederal' models of governance. But leading practitioners of these
or similar power sharing systems the US, Britain, Australia, Canada
have banned the LTTE, making it impossible for the movement's
members to travel to these countries to study their practices and
structures. Perhaps cognizant of this, Margot Wallstrøm, a top EU
official, told the 'Support Meeting' that the European Commission
hoped "to identify a way to enable [us] to extend to the LTTE the
possibility to look at different European government models."
Physically isolated from the international diplomatic space, the
LTTE was, until recently, unable to engage in the requisite breadth
and depth with world governments to advance their political case.
The transfer in 1999 to London from the Vanni of Mr. Balasingham and
the emergence this year of near routine contact with numerous
countries through Colombo based diplomats has enabled the movement
to discuss key issues directly with relevant governments and
Working contacts between LTTE officials at different levels and
different sections and diplomats and other international officials
has also given the movement much needed experience, LTTE officials
say. But whilst acknowledging international acceptance will require
greater diplomatic efforts on its part, they are optimistic. "I
think in the course of time the countries that have proscribed the
LTTE will review their stand on the basis of the progress of the
negotiations," Mr. Balasingham said.