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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2674

Solheim down in the polls; no hope either of re-starting talks

Colombo, 25 May, ( Norwegian Peace facilitator. Erik Solheim, is scheduled to arrive in Colombo today with a huge question mark hanging over his head: how far can he go with kick-starting the stalled peace process? He himself has hosed down high expectations. S. Pulidevan, head of the Tamil Peace Secretariat, too has confirmed this. Jon Hanssen-Bauer, the special envoy who has replaced Solheim, will also be with Solheim in conducting this new round of talks in Colombo. According to latest media reports, he is not even going to Killinochchi. According to informed sources, the LTTE is cheesed off with his failure to prevent the EU ban. They were depending on him to do the trick but he failed.

Solheim also arrives in Colombo with an international poll confirming the Sri Lankan perception that he has not “acted in an impartial manner in handling the Sri Lankan crisis.” This poll conducted by the Asian Tribune concluded today with 69% saying that he has been biased and 31% supporting him as an impartial facilitator. A total of 2931 voted in this poll.

Solheim’s failure has been attributed mainly to his partisan role which has not paid dividends. He was hoping to be effective by relying essentially on Anton Balasingham, the Chief Negotiator of the LTTE and its theoretician. He was wont to repeat and
the lines of Anton Balasingham but his pro-LTTE role, blaming the Sri Lankan government like Balasingham, has failed in delivering the expected results of durable peace. He has failed even to keep his Ceasefire Agreement going. LTTE pulled out of it within a year of signing it with Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was the co-signatory. Relying on his word Wickremesinghe came out crying that the CFA comes with international guarantees. But Anton Balasingham knew better. He had boasted privately that he had pulled the wool over the Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government and the international community led by Solheim.

Neither Solheim nor Wickremesinghe can blame the current government of Mahinda Rajapakse as being “hardliners” because the LTTE pulled out of the talks shortly after signing it with Wickremesinghe. The failure to bring back the LTTE to the negotiating table – or even to talks about a share of $4.5 billion offered by the donor countries – is seen as a direct failure of Solheim and his Ceasefire Agreement. Analysts note that, in fact, violence has increased since the signing of his failed Ceasefire Agreement, and more so after the last peace talks in Geneva.

In the meantime, the Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar held a preparatory meeting with the LTTE political head S.P. Thamilselvan in Kilinochchi Tuesday. Solheim and Hanssen-Bauer are due to meet President Mahinda Rajapakse, the Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera and the head of the Peace Secretariat, Dr. Palitha Kohona.

These talks will also focus on the scheduled meeting of the Co-chairs in Tokyo on May 30, 2006. But it is unlikely that the Solheim will succeed in getting the LTTE on track. According to news reports the LTTE has warned that the talks will not be resumed this year. India too has been invited to attend the Tokyo meeting. That too is in doubt at this stage.

"Analysts believe that the LTTE is reeling under the several blow dealt by the EU. With the 25 members expected to ratify it this week makes (drop this word) it is (add this word) unlikely that the LTTE will be cordial to any moves made by the Norwegians to re-start the talks. The LTTE was hoping that the Norwegian pressure would stop any moves to ban them. It did for a short while when, under Norwegian pressure, the Nordic countries refused to go
along with the other members of the EU. "

But after the naval battle of May 11, in which the LTTE threatened to attack a boat with the Nordic Truce monitors on board, LTTE lost the chance of saving its face. American and British pressure was also mounted and Norway lost any clout it had in stopping the ban.

As a peace-broker these failures reflects badly on Solheim. He neither won the confidence of the public as an impartial facilitator nor did he gain anything substantial with his failed Ceasefire Agreement. Now he seems to be losing his influence even with the side he favored most: the LTTE.

- Asian Tribune -

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