To end Erik Solheim’s misery


By Dr Kamal Wickremasinghe

The literature on Sri Lanka’s thirty-year war is characterised by the undue preponderance of material on Norway’s failed operation outnumbering all other analyses by a ratio of 3:1. The evaluations have begun well before their role ended in 2007, with studies of Norwegian efficacy dating back to 2005. A large number of more comprehensive retrospective evaluations (e.g. the 2011 paper "Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997-2009" by The Chr. Michelsen Institute of Norway and School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London) also have been published. The availability of more than 200,000 reports on the subject suggests thatthe role of Norway in Sri Lanka’s war has been ‘done to death’. Alas, they do not seem to be finished yet, if the latest offering by Erik Solheim, "To End a Civil War" (TECW) is to be taken seriously!

A logical first reaction to the news of TECW would be question as to what "new" information Solheim promises to offer the world: it is claimed in the publisher’s blurb that the book fills a critical gap in understanding the Sri Lankan conflict through the story of "how a faraway European nation attempted to end the conflict". The author also suggests that there was hope for a peaceful end to the conflict. But, anticipation soon evaporates when a flick through revealsthat TECWonly rehashes a set of assertions‘as stale as last week’s bread’.The claim that the infamous 2002 ceasefire agreement had the potential to bring the conflict to a "peaceful" end is truly ludicrous. The publisher’s blurb alone will guarantee that Sri Lankans will give TECW short shrift due to the washed-out nature of the claims made, and the criticality of what is excluded from the narrative.

In the final analysis, TECW is a ‘revenge tale’ plain and simple: it is clear that Solheim’s objective in commissioning the book has been to ‘settle a few scores’ with people such as Lakshman Kadirgamar and Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom he seems to be holding responsible for denying him his moment of glory. The contents of the book suggest that Solheim is yet to get over his frustrations caused by the disruption of his plans by these twopatriots.Sri Lankans will discard Solheim’s curses out-of-hand since they know him all too well.

No one should be under the illusion that the former NGO wallah Mark Salter is the real author of TECW: it is ghost-written to evade the impact of Solheim’s unsavoury reputation on the credibility of the exercise. I think Salter’s claim that he wrote the book as an objective observer is undiluted hogwash in the absence of an explanation as to why Solheim would fund a ‘fishing expedition’ by him on a set of events that have been buried for nearly a decade. Solheim’s prominence at the launch of the book in Oslo, London and the US, and the lead role he played in panel discussions, with Salter playing a subsidiary role, portrayed Solheim as the real instigator.

Any analysis of Solheim’s selective account of his claimed ‘services’ to peace in Sri Lanka would be a waste of time. The reader could be better served by posing some remaining, puzzling, questions about Norway’s involvement in Sri Lanka so that Solheim and Salter could answer- in their next book perhaps - to some hitherto unanswered questions such as the following:

*Why did Solheim engage in - right through his involvement – to coax the Sri Lankan government leadership to accept the‘unwinnable war’ paradigm, maintainingthat Piraphakaran could never be defeated militarily, and the only way out was to grant his demands?

*Why did Norway elevate the LTTE to the "sole representative of the Tamil community" status in such haste?

*Why did Norway always attempt to treat the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government as ‘equals’, deceitfully applying the ‘parity of esteem’ concept?

*Why did Solheim and Norway work covertly to build up LTTE in to a military force comparable in strength to the Sri Lankan armed forces?

*Why did Norway provide sophisticated satellite communication equipment to the LTTE during the 2002 ceasefire?

*Why did the Norwegian Head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, Major (SLMM) General Trond Furuhovde instruct the LTTE, in October 2003, to claim that the LTTE attack on the Chinese ship was by a "third party with stolen uniforms"?

*Why, in October 2003,did Tryggve Tellefsen (the then head of the SLMM) forewarn the LTTE arms vessel about the impending Navy attack?

*Why did Norway help the LTTE establish relations with Eritrea, organised purchases of arms, ammunition and other military equipment from a number of sources, using Eritrean end-user certificates?

*Why did Norway facilitate the training of LTTE sea tigers in Thailand?

*Why did Norway facilitate travel to Europe for LTTE leaders prior to the EU proscription in 2006, and arrange meetings with European politicians under the cover of "fact-finding missions"?

*Why did Norway allow Norwegian Government-funded NGOs like the Norwegian People’s Aid to ‘donate’ heavy earth-moving vehicles, trucks, electricity generators, water pumps, tents, and other equipment to the LTTE?

*Why did Norway fund publications like Professor Kristian Stokke’s "Building the Tamil Eelam State", Third World Quarterly 27 (2006), which purported to ‘examine’ the ‘new state’ institutions, pre-empting the formal division of Sri Lanka?

*Why did Norway allow the Icelandic diplomat Bjarni Vestmann enter the country on a tourist visa in October 2007, and arrange a clandestine meeting with S. P. Tamilselvan?

*Why did the SLMM and Norway ignore morethan 3000 cease-fire violations and serious human rights violations, including child soldier recruitment, committed by the LTTE?

These are only some of the intriguing questions Solheim and Norway are yet to answer.

In the absence of explanations from the ‘horse’ mouth’, we are compelled to present empirical, alternate answers to these observational questions.

Answers to above questions about Solheim’s involvement in Sri Lanka remain buried in the historical context of Norway’s emergence as an international ‘player’ and the personal context of Erik Solheim that propelled him to meddle in our affairs. (The undercurrents of the global neocon-Zionist movement that ultimately governed both these behaviours are outside the scope of this article). Notwithstanding that, the surreptitious methods and mechanisms used by Solheim become transparentwhen viewed against this background.

As to the historical context, intervention has been a trait that governed the international affairs of European countries at least for the last 5,000 years. Greed for power overeach other has been the cause of numerous intra-European wars throughout history. This penchant for overpowering others was reinvigorated in the 1830s, on the back of the impetus provided by the British "synthetic philosopher" Herbert Spencer’s peculiar interpretation of Charles Darwin’s ideas of ‘evolution by natural selection’; Spencer interpreted Darwin’s hypothesis to mean "survival of the fittest"as the underlying principle of human existence.All Europeans began to use Spencer’s erroneous "Social Darwinism" idea to justify empire buildingas a natural expression of ‘fitness’. Though the belief in the survival of the fittest was founded primarily on racism, it also fuelled belligerence among the "white" European nations, based on respective economic strengths at a given time.

Norway emerged from this broader European canvas, and was actively seeking opportunities to project their fitness as an "overseas player", following ‘striking oil’ (literally) in 1971.Their first foray into peace-making involved the "Oslo process"aimed at bringing peace to the Palestinians and Israelis, beginning in 1993. Further attempts to intervene in conflicts in Mali (1995) by Norwegian Church Aid and in Guatemala (1996)by a host of Norwegian NGOs were unsuccessful. After a convoluted process that extended from 1993-2000, the Oslo processfor Palestinian Israeli peace ended in failure, with the region descending in to further violence immediately after.

There are several common underlying themes that arose from the Oslo process Norway applied during their involvement in Sri Lanka. Firstly, Solheim exploited the Norwegian concerns about the failure of the Oslo process reflecting badly on their peace-making credentials. He portrayed Sri Lanka as an opportunity for Norway to redeem their credentials. Secondly, Solheim’s commitment to erasing all perceptual and material differences of ‘status’ between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE was based on their primary ‘Lesson Learnt’from the Oslo failurethat agreements between two parties with great power disparityare never possible. Solheim fused this objective with his subtle attempts to breakdown the government ‘will’ with his refrain that the war was "unwinnable" due to Pirapakaran’s military invincibility.

Solheim’s drift into the Sri Lankan situation has been dishonestly publicised as purely fortuitous: the story goes that he spent early 1998 in Sri Lanka, lodged in the Colombo house of the notorious NGO merchant Arne Fjortoft (friend of the late A.C.S. Hameed), writing his memoir "Nærmere" (Further). Solheim had been ousted earlier, in 1997, from the Socialist Left party of Norway on the grounds that he had attempted to implement a right-wing agenda under the party’s left-wing banner. He was accused of being an infiltrator. The memoir, like TECW, was a sob story of what could have been!

It was Solheim’s introduction to Chandrika Kumaratunga by his host Arne Fjortoft - a man who only fits the description ‘as shifty as they come’- that set the ball rolling. Fjørtoft’s other friend Jon Westborg (Norwegian ambassador to Sri Lanka from 1996 to 2003) ‘happened to be’ at the meeting, too. Westborg himself was an NGO veteran of Lutheran World Federation, Save the Children and the Strømme Foundation, later joining the government. Following further events that began at the meeting, Solheim was granted a leave of absence from parliament in 2000,to serve as special advisor to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sri Lanka. The claimed ‘fortuitous’ nature of these events are only as believable as stories of fairies at the sea front at Galle Face!

It is not an exaggeration to suggest that Solheim ‘hero-worshipped’ Pirapakaran, probably due to the image formed under stories of ‘valour’ of the terrorist he had heard from Anton Balasingham whom he knew before. Solheim clearly took delight in being one of just three foreign leaders,together with the former EU commissioner Chris Patton and the Japanese special envoy Yashushi Akashi, to have personally met Pirapakaran - 10 times in his case. It is no secret that he was among the few who mourned the demise of Pirapakaran; Solheim’s response to questions by the German Web magazine Spiegel Online (SO) of 25 May 2009 clearly showed his heartbreak at the demise of Pirapakaran. Here is a verbatim extract from the interview:

SO: The LTTE has capitulated. Its leaders are dead; and there is jubilation in Colombo. As a former peace negotiator, you interacted with Velupillai Prabhakaran. Are you in a celebratory mood as well?

Solheim: It's natural that the mood of all of us involved becomes sad and sober -- whichever side of the conflict such a person belonged to. This is also the case regarding the LTTE leaders who have been killed.

SO: How would you describe the time you spent with Prabhakaran?

Solheim: We used to eat lunch together. We were served seafood from the northern parts of Sri Lanka. We talked about cooking and the films he liked; and we talked about history. It was the closest anybody ever could get. He was a shy and calm person.

It is clear that Solheim has not been able to free himself yet from obvious nostalgia for the times spent with his ‘friends’ Pirapakaran and Anton Balasingham and the failure of his personal ambition to aggrandize himself. Solheim sees the EU proscription of the LTTE in 2006 as the major ‘fly in the ointment’ that triggered the LTTE’s decline, and he continues to show resentment towards Lakshman Kadirgamar, whom he believes to be responsible for securing the EU proscription. Solheim clearly considers that the LTTE’s objection to the engagement of EU citizens in the SLMM that led to the forced withdrawal of 40 Swedish, Finnish and Danish nationals as a crucial step that upset his plans for the LTTE and Sri Lanka. It is noteworthy that Solheim followed a two-track approach on Kadirgamar, with the Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo ‘working on’ Kadirgamar. Some members of the Sri Lankan Intelligence community is of the view that the major reason behind the LTTE’s murder of Kadirgamar was his objection to Solheim’s pro-LTTE role. Needless to discuss in detail, Solheim loathes Mahinda Rajapaksa for competently managing Pirapaharan’s extermination, particularly for refusing the demands of Solheim’s behind-the scene- collaborators David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner. TECW is an effort to rewrite the disgraceful history of his involvement in Sri Lanka.

Solheim would have thought he had reached the nadir of his existence when, in 2010, the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas GahrStøre took control over the bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and Norway to "… ensure that Norway-Sri Lanka relations are brought back to the way they were". In January 2011 Erik Solheim offered to play the role of a "dialogue partner" between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Diaspora who had formed a government in exile.

The failure of the Oslo process, and the second failure in Sri Lanka however, did not appear to have extinguished Norway’s craving for further involvement: they moved on from Sri Lanka to Colombiain October 2012,to mediate talks between the government and the guerrilla group ELN (National Liberation Army), with Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela also roped in.In 2015, Norway joined theInternational Monitoring Team (IMT) for the peace talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao. Norway is also the facilitator of peace talks between the Philippine government and the communist movement the National Democratic Front (NDFP).

Only in 2015 did Norway show a rethink of their capacity to critically intervene on the international stage, prompted probably by lack of progress in the Phillippines.The 2011 attacks by Anders Behring Breivik against the government, the civilian population, and a summer youth camp that claimed 77 lives also appears to have showed the need for attention to its own backyard before venturing to solve others’ problems. It is probably due to this realisation that the Norwegian Foreign Ministry recently announced scaling down ofa number of peace initiatives, and announcedhigherpriority to security and economic interests closer to Norway’s borders. Not before time!

Erik Solheim’s attempt to rewrite history will prove be an exception to Napoléon Bonaparte’s dictum "History is a set of lies agreed upon." There are not many who agree on Solheim’s set of lies.

animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...