Unravelling Solheim’s crazy conundrum


Off my chest by Andare

 Since reading in a Sunday newspaper the remarks of Norwegian Minister Erik Solheim to a group of Sri Lankan journalists in Oslo, I have been trying to unravel the meaning and intent of his words.

Before commenting on Solheim’s observations on the panel on Sri Lanka appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon let me deal with another controversial issue into which Solheim has jumped headlong in an imitation of bulls visiting a china shop.

To recapitulate, the report in the Sunday Times said that Solheim had told visiting Sri Lankan journalists that on 17th May last year he had received a telephone call from LTTE leaders B. Nadesan and S. Pulithevan asking him to arrange for a surrender. He also claims that a similar appeal had been made to the ICRC and the UN.

"We passed the information to the government," Solheim said. But then came an interesting remark. Solheim says: "We told the two LTTE leaders that their offer came too late."

Now this is intriguing. What is not explained is why Solheim said that it was too late. Did somebody tell him so? If somebody did, who was it? Was it a person in authority who was in a position to know it was too late? If nobody told him that how did Solheim come to make this claim? On what evidence did he draw this conclusion? Or did he simply assume so? If he assumed it on what basis did he reach this conclusion?

These are questions that remain unanswered. Strangely enough, none of the journalists present appear to have thought it fit to raise these questions with Solheim. Up to now there is no clear picture about the last day or last hours in the decimation of the LTTE. There are many grey areas that need to be cleared.

Since we are made to believe that Solheim had played a role-how important it was in the circumstances is still not clear either- the journalists had the opportunity to ask him to eliminate this opacity as far as he could or would.

Surely the statement that the Norwegians told the two LTTE front liners their "offer came too late" is pregnant with meaning. Even if they did ask and he did reply, this is not reflected in the news report I read. So Solheim was allowed to get away with statements that seem to show him up as a great humanitarian determined to stop people from being killed.

He portrays himself as one who wanted to stop the innocent from being killed. But was that really his intention? Was his concern the ordinary Tamil people, the innocent civilians whom Solheim did not know?

Or was his real concern how to save the leaders of the separatist terrorist group that Norway and he in particular, had nurtured and helped often quite clandestinely, from being eliminated.

If that was to happen, all the investment that Norway had made in the way of monetary, material and diplomatic resources to build up the LTTE would go up in smoke.

It is true what Solheim says that thousands of lives would have been saved if the LTTE had surrendered. But saving the thousands was not this one-time peace broker’s concern. He had two concerns. One was to save the leadership of the LTTE probably believing that those who fight and fly away would live to fight another day.

The other is his personal reputation. He was a mere backbencher when he was picked up for this job as peace facilitator during Chandrika Kumaratunga’s presidency.

But Solheim turned out to be more than just a peace facilitator. He was much more than that to the LTTE which built a symbiotic relationship with the man.

So any mortal blow to the LTTE was also a blow to Solheim’s self esteem and his political reputation at home and in the Nordic region. One needs to remember that Norway had already made inroads into Sri Lanka through various NGOs, Norwegian and local such as the National Peace Council.

Norway flew the scribes to Oslo hoping they would cleanse the ugly face and phase of Nordic involvement in the Tamil issue which grew uglier by the month. Oslo is hoping that Solheim would be given a whitewash and donned in lily white garb so that he can make a quiet reappearance as a man more sinned against than sinning.

Solheim laments that he has been "unfairly’ treated by the Sri Lanka media. That is surely because Sri Lanka was unfairly treated by Solheim and his friends and colleagues in the ‘peace’ movement.

That included those Scandinavians in the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission who tried to elevate a terrorist group to the level of a state agent and provide them with exclusive use of a part of Sri Lanka’s territorial seas.

Solheim says there is "broad international support" for Ban Ki-moon’s panel on Sri Lanka. How broad is this broad international support? Has Solheim taken a count of those who support it? If so could he please name the countries that support it? Is it not largely the Caucasian people and the Tamil diaspora who are for it. That includes civil society groups and INGOs, not the majority of the members of the United Nations which is surely the most representative group.

It is such generalizations and untruths by Solheim that have not endeared him to the Sri Lankan people and the sooner he stops interfering in its affairs the sooner the Sri Lankan media will stop skinning him like a freshly caught salmon.

The same news report cited earlier quotes Solheim as saying: "We called upon the LTTE to come to an organized stop (or surrender). If it had happened thousands of lives would have been saved…."

In other words the thousands of lives that Solheim claims were lost only because the LTTE did not accept even the advice of the Norwegians and throw in the towel when they should have.

If that is Solheim’s considered view then the responsibility for the deaths of those people he refers to rests solely on the shoulders of the LTTE. By the recalcitrance and stubborn refusal of the LTTE to accept military defeat, the LTTE leadership (one that sadly Solheim tried to save) made the Tamil people make the ultimate sacrifice.

Who then should be blamed for this final catastrophe? The "international" support group that Solheim cites in a different context deliberately turns a blind eye to this sad truth.

Moreover Solheim says he told the two LTTE leaders to raise white flags if they wish to surrender. That sounds to me like strange advice in the circumstance because according to Solheim himself he had told them that there offer of surrender "came too late."

If that is so, and we have Solheim’s word for it that it was too late, by asking the two to raise white flags (and in the dark too from what one has read) Solheim seems to have sent them to their death. Solheim himself does not seem to know whether in fact Nadesan and Pulithevan hoisted white flags or not. This is simply what he asked them to do.

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