Did Norwegian diplomats help some Lankans to leave the country? - Colombo to raise Norwegian press expose with Oslo


by Shamindra Ferdinando

The Sri Lankan government will raise the alleged involvement of Norwegian embassy in helping LTTE operatives to leave the country legitimately through the Bandaranaike International Airport. Authoritative officials told The Sunday Island that the Sri Lankan embassy in Oslo would take it up with the Norwegian government, while the Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo, Ms Hilde Haraldstad was expected to be summoned by the External Affairs Ministry early this week.

"President Rajapaksa is concerned and wanted the External Affairs Ministry to expedite inquiries," a senior official said. The External Affairs Ministry said that a report was awaited from the Sri Lankan mission in Oslo.

 Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten on Friday revealed that the Norwegian embassy in Colombo had helped approximately 12 people, purchasing flight tickets, driving some to the airport, and issuing visas at short notice both for emigrants and those who had already escaped from Sri Lanka.

The revelation comes ahead of the much awaited release of Norwegian evaluation of its involvement in Sri Lanka from 1997 to 2009, with the focus on the final phase of the conflict. The LTTE collapsed on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon on May 19, two years ago.

Responding to a query by The Sunday Island, an official overseeing inquiries said that the government wanted to establish the identities of those, who fled the country and when."We always suspected the involvement of Norway and some other countries in LTTE terrorists escaping the police and security forces. At last we now have evidence thanks to the Norwegian media," the official said.

Another source said the government wanted to know whether the operation continued even after the conclusion of the war in May 2009.

Aftenposten quoted Norwegian Opposition politicians as having said that the move was "quite unusual" and "bordering on activism", fearing it would damage diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Head of research at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), Iver B. Neumann, was quoted having said "it is a considerable violation of sovereignty as well as the basic principle of international politics."

"It also undermines Norwegian interests because a small-sized country such as Norway benefits from transparency, rather than how this matter has been handled," he said.

Sources said that those helped by the Norwegians to flee Sri Lanka couldn’t be ordinary Tigers. The Norwegian embassy would never have involved in such high handed clandestine operation in violation of all diplomatic norms unless those trying to flee the country were of considerable importance to the LTTE leadership.

They said that the Norwegian embassy here wouldn’t have carried out the operation without having approval from Oslo and would not have risked a diplomatic row for LTTE fighters.

The External Affairs Ministry said that it wasn’t clear whether any of the Norwegian diplomatic staff allegedly involved in the operation were still here.

Sources said that it would be interesting to know whether Norway facilitated the movement of any other nationals to other parts of the world. Norway had been deeply involved in negotiating with Hamas over the years, sources said, asserting that Norwegian diplomatic personnel could have been involved in ‘monkey business’ elsewhere.

Sources said that the government had been quietly talking with the Norwegian embassy in the recent past and exploring ways and means of improving relations in the post-war era.

The Aftenposten revelation couldn’t have come at a worse time for those seeking to strengthen diplomatic relations in spite of Norwegian bias towards the LTTE and those hell-bent on subverting the country.

Sources said that a meeting between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Norwegian Premier, at the UN General Assembly sessions next September, had been on the cards though not yet finalized.

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