Erik Solheim, Norwegian Minister of International Development in a wide ranging interview to Indian magazine Tehelka has said Norway is supporting Tamil right to self-rule in Sri Lanka. Text of the interview as follows:
The Sri Lankan government was against holding the talks in Norway, as demanded by the Tigers. They insisted that talks be held in Sri Lanka or in some Asian country. How did the two parties agree on Geneva finally?
The two parties agreed to meet after being convinced that the ceasefire agreement must be upheld to prevent further escalation of the situation. Norway reassured the parties of its readiness to facilitate talks wherever they agree to meet. They agreed on Geneva on a suggestion from the facilitator. Switzerland has always, in their eyes, played a constructive role and maintained an unbiased approach in the peace process.
What was the agenda for the talks?
Negotiations in Geneva were not means to end the conflict, but it is very positive that the parties agreed to discuss how to improve the serious security situation.
You have held talks with both the parties. What are the major complaints and grievances on each side?
The main complaints relate to the high level of killings, abductions and violence over the last month. But I cannot paraphrase the parties’ positions on these matters.
Do you believe a negotiated solution is possible, given the history of aborted agreements and failure of peace initiatives in the last five decades between the Sinhalese and the Tamils?
I sincerely believe in a negotiated political solution. The Norwegian government is committed to actively promoting peace and reconciliation internationally. We will continue to give priority to facilitating the peace process in Sri Lanka as long as the parties request our efforts and we see that we can play a constructive role. I hope that the parties gain mutual confidence to take the peace process forward. There is clear pressure on President Mahinda Rajapakse from his allies, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and Jathika Hela Urumaya, not to concede even the most basic demands of Tamils. Both parties favour a solution within a unitary state structure, a departure from former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe.
With Rajapakse dependent on them for survival, how meaningful can talks be?
I cannot in my position as third party facilitator involve myself in political issues regarding internal dynamics on either side.
Do you think a solution is possible within a unitary state structure?
I take the view that the parties should not be blinded by the use of different terms and find a solution acceptable to all Sri Lankans.
What in your view are the legitimate grievances of Tamils?
There is broad agreement in the international community on support for Tamil rights to some form of self-rule or power sharing within a united Sri Lanka.
Do you agree with the view that trouble started with the controversial Ceylon Citizenship Act in 1948 disenfranchising thousands of Tamils, the declaration of Sinhala as official language, and the subsequent laws in education favouring the Sinhalese etc, resulting in the alienation of Tamils?
Both parties would have a different take on this issue. Norway is tasked to bring the parties to the table and assist them in finding a durable solution to the conflict. We have to be careful in our comments on historical matters, however important they may be.
There is a view that the eu will revoke its travel ban on LTTE cadre post-Geneva talks. Do you see that happening?
Norway is not a member of the eu and thus not involved in eu deliberations. We do not have an official stance on this issue.
The Sri Lankan government’s proxy war against the LTTE through the Karuna group is said to be the main cause for the escalation in violence. Has the government given any assurance of disarming Karuna?
Both the government and the LTTE have reassured that they will do their utmost to stop violence. The Lankan military has been harassing civilians, triggering an exodus of Tamil refugees to India. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission too has attested this.The parties are committed to end the campaign of violence.
What did the LTTE’s Prabhakaran tell you?
Prabhakaran promised to do his part to put a stop to the escalating violence. He reaffirmed his commitment to the peace process and a peaceful solution.
The US seems to have taken a pro-Sinhala stand. The recent statements of Under Secretary Nicholas Burns and Ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead betray their bias.
Many governments, including the US, expressed their support to the parties ahead of the talks. We are encouraged by the support of India, US and others to Norway’s involvement as facilitators.
What was the outcome of your recent Indian visit and meetings with NSA MK Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran?
India has always been supportive of the peace process and of Norway as facilitator, and reiterated its support during the meetings. Norway will continue to keep India informed throughout the process. [TamilWeek Mar 26, 2006]