Prabhakaran traps the Norwegians

by S. Kohobanwickrame
The Norwegians may be held in high regard for professional peace - making, but the events of 21 February, 2001, would be a case in point for many peace researchers and academics in Oslo to view with dismay.

The Norwegian Ambassador Jon Westborg was invited by Prabahkaran to his hideout location in the Vanni to personally discuss concerns of the Sri Lankan government regarding the "draft" Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), it is essential to emphasis the word "draft" document here. However, what transpired was that the LTTE leader was not interested in making any comments or observations on the draft document, but had made elaborate preparations with TV camera crews to sign the document in its unapproved draft form.

The important factor here is that the document that the Norwegian Ambassador took with him to the Vanni was a draft MoU, the concerns of the government in relation to the draft had to be discussed with the LTTE and appropriate amendments made before a final document for signature was prepared. Not wanting to discuss the concerns of the Sri Lankan government or make any concessions, Prabhakaran signed the draft document.

It is necessary to identify the procedural error in this situation and the person held accountable for such a serious blunder. Any Company Director or Company Lawyer will tell you that an agreement in draft form is only for comments and observations. The final document for signature is compiled only after negotiations on the draft document is completed. The mistake on 21 February, was that Ambassador Westborg had become mesmerized by the presence of Prabhakaran, that he did not have the guts or the backbone to prevent Prabhakaran from signing a draft document that had not been fully endorsed by both parties. This act by Ambassador Westborg was completely unprofessional and not in keeping with the standards expected from Norway as a peace broker.

It is like parents seeking the services of a Magul Kapuwa (Marriage Broker) to get information on prospective partners for their child, and the marriage broker comes back the following day with a signed marriage certificate.

If the Norwegians and the ceasefire monitors from the Nordic countries are captivated and enchanted by the presence of Prabhakaran and are not in a position to withstand his hypnotic powers, the partiality of the Norwegian involvement will be detrimental to the interest of Sri Lanka.

Anyway, the end result is that Prabhakaran outsmarted everyone and signed a document completely favourable to him. The draft MoU signed by Prabhakaran has given legal status to the territory controlled by the LTTE under articles 1.4 & 1.5, and further strengthened by article 1.9 of the agreement.

Prabhakaran has not been satisfied by mere legal acceptance of his dominance over territory, he has skilfully ensured that international observes do not have a presence in the Vanni. Under article 3.6 the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) shall only maintain a presence in Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara. The SLMM can maintain an office in the Vanni for a specific task, which is for liaison purposes only (a courier service), but is prohibited from having a presence to monitor the ceasefire in Killinochchi and Mullaitivu.

Article 3.6 clearly defines the areas in which the SLMM can have a presence, and the districts of Killinochchi and Mullaitivu have been excluded. Therefore, the SLMM can only have a legal presence under the MoU in the areas controlled by the government.

It is astonishing to believe that such a clause was permitted in the MoU. The total blame for this is with Ambassador Westborg for his poor professionalism. Is it possible to comprehend how a ceasefire monitoring mission can monitor a ceasefire from one side of the fence?

In effect Prabhakaran has established a highly secure enclave without the intrusion of any outside observers to watch him consolidate his forces and prepare a military build-up during the ceasefire period. In the recent months the LTTE has been conscripting youth to build up its depleted numbers and procuring large consignments of weapons. All these activities will continue to take place outside the purview of the SLMM.

It is surprising that the intellectual base behind the governments peace strategy had not categorised the contents of the MoU into critical elements, principal elements, cohesive elements and positive elements. This is basic negotiation theory, critical elements are subjects that are non-negotiable and have to be recognised as such; principal elements are subjects with some possibility of leverage; and cohesive elements are the areas for major concessions. While positive elements are subjects that require concessions from the opponent. Positive elements have to be sub-divided in an order of priority. The process of negotiation skill is to secure as many positive elements from the opponent by conceding cohesive elements and a minimal of principal elements.

International monitors in the Vanni are the most essential aspects of a ceasefire with the LTTE. After being betrayed thrice the issue of international monitors in the Vanni should have been categorised as a critical element by the Sri Lankan negotiating team. The Sri Lankan position should have been, if international monitors are to be used, complete territorial compliance should be mandatory. We should have gone even further and requested a monitoring mission office on the beach front at Chalai, the main Sea Tiger base.

This MoU has a clear demarcation clause "the SLMM shall have a presence in Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara", specifically excluding any monitoring activities in Killinochchi and Mullaitivu.

The people of this country deserve an explanation either from Ambassador Westborg or Prime Minister Wickremesinghe regarding Article 3.6 of the MoU. Why was Prabhakaran permitted to evade the jurisdiction and scope of the SLMM’s monitoring activities in Killinochchi and Mullaitivu ? Who is held accountable for this blunder?