Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa, two days ago, accused Norway and its former minister of international development, Erik Solheim, of ‘funding’ the LTTE. Solheim, who served as Norway’s peace envoy to Sri Lanka, was active in facilitating the negotiations between Colombo and LTTE when the two sides were talking in the last decade.
In a statement on Monday, Solheim strongly denied Norway ever ‘financed’ LTTE. Rajapaksa, he said, was not only fully informed of Norway’s engagement with the Tigers but had met Solheim ‘dozens of times’ and asked him to pass on messages to the rebels. Solheim also reiterated his decision to testify before an international committee investigating war atrocities.
In his first and only interview to the media after the controversy broke, Solheim — currently the chair of OECD in Paris — spoke to HT with his side of the story:
Do you have any thoughts on why the President has stepped up his hostile rhetoric against Norway and you at this particular moment?
It is all about the upcoming election. Norway is used to being attacked for domestic political purposes in Sri Lanka. That has gone on for more than a decade.
Norway had an extensive role in the Lankan peace process but it has often come under flak, with many calling it a failure. Looking back, what do you think went wrong for the prospects of a political settlement? Who was to blame?
The peace process worked very well for a number of years, with thousands of lives spared in Sri Lanka. We, by the way, cooperated closely with India. When both parties from around 2005-06 wanted to go back to war, it was limited what the international community could do.
The two main problems for the peace process was the inability of the LTTE leadership to fully endorse federalism as the solution to the conflict. It was wrong to isolate them as it led to limited understanding of the wider world. Secondly, the power struggle within the Sri Lanka political elite which made cooperation between the two main parties, the SLFP and the UNP, very difficult.
Rajapaksa also spoke of your upcoming testimony in Geneva. Could you tell us a bit of what this is about, and what your views on the final phase of the war and war crimes are?
The UN has established an investigation into alleged war crimes by the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka in the final faces of the war. I consider it the duty of everyone, Sri Lankans and foreigners, to provide all relevant information to the investigators.
The UN cannot work if we do not respect the decisions made by the UN as the legitimate body representing the global community.
Tens of thousands of Tamil civilians perished at the end of the Sri Lankan war. The suffering was horrendous. It is nothing but the responsibility of the UN to look into if war crimes were committed. We should all be grateful to Ban Ki-moon for his leadership here.