Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2589

Solheim - facilitator or blunderer?

H. L. D. Mahindapala

On September 12, 2006 the BBC announced: "Norwegian Minister for International Development Erik Solheim told BBC Sandeshaya that both parties informed the facilitators of their willingness to come back to the table without any conditions."

Later (September 15, 2006) the BBC announced that "the Tamil Tigers have imposed 'conditions' for the proposed talks between them and the Sri Lanka government." It added: "Rasiah Ilanthirayan demanded that the government withdraw from the areas captured recently, including the strategically important Sampur."

"We will not come back to talks if the government fails to implement the demarcation lines according to the CFA" he told BBC sinahala.com.

After Sampoor the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) too was quite explicit and persistent in stating that they would lay down conditions before talks could begin again. This was predictable because the GoSL had burnt its fingers on previous occasions by running to talks each time the LTTE says that they are ready for talks and returning empty handed like the procession of Co-chairs and other international emissaries returning empty handed from Vanni.

So how on earth did Erik Solheim come to the conclusion that there were no pre-conditions for talks? Neither the GoSL nor the LTTE were lying on this aspect. Nor was there any need to prevaricate considering the risks of going to talks without pre-conditions. Certainly, one apparent reason for this fictitious statement is Solheim's eagerness to make an impression on the international stage. His deflated self-confidence after so many failures, no doubt, needed a booster to make him feel good and also to look good as if he is the Super Man who got another break-through. But the peace process is not about making Solheim feel good, or look good.

This is all about saving lives of the war-weary people of Sri Lanka. Solheim has failed in the past. His monumental failure has been in the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) which he engineered. Solheim has failed again in his latest move to be smarter than what he really is.

But the more questionable agenda is his behind-the-scene attempts (1) to pull the chestnuts out for the Tigers who are licking their wounds in Killinochchi and (2) to pull wool over the eyes of Sri Lankans and the actors involved in the peace process. The only way the Tigers could save the day is by pretending to be peace-lovers with an unquenchable thirst to negotiate. They discover the virtues of negotiations and peace only when they are beaten.

Not surprisingly, after Sampoor the Tigers have turned into non-violent Gandhians overnight. This is the other face of the Tigers. They are either Pol Potist executioners breathing hellfire and thunder when the going is good for them or goody-goody Gandhians when the chips are down. Now that they are in the mood to show the Gandhian face what will Solheim do when the Tigers come out snarling with their original Pol Potist face next time?

Solheim has a lot to answer for misleading the Co-chairs, the world and the Sri Lankan public in declaring that both parties had agreed to talks without any pre-conditions. When there is no evidence to back up his claim how can Solheim be accepted as a reliable facilitator to interpret and report the true facts of the unfolding events - a prime necessity for the Co-chairs and the other actors to arrive at informed decisions that could help all concerned to work out a durable peace. No peace can last on lies or ill-informed interpretations, or distorted information manufactured by the facilitators sitting in the middle, attempting to play the role God.

Is it surprising that he has lost the confidence of the Sri Lankan political circles and the public at large? Each time he loses and faces the flak from Sri Lankan political he runs to the Co-chairs to make them chant the same old mantra of having" full confidence in the Norwegian facilitators". He may be having the full confidence of the Co-chairs but shouldn't he first win some confidence from the people who are affected directly by his incompetence and partisan role? And, above all, isn't the incompetence and the partisan role of Solheim one of the primary causes for the failure of the Sri Lankan peace process?

When it comes to analyzing the realities of Sri Lankan he seems to be suffering from dyspraxia -- a neurological condition where the brain cannot process the known facts. Who else would want to equate the democratically elected state of Sri Lanka with an unelected fascist outfit with a penchant for killing Tamils and whoever else crosses its path? Isn't the implicit objective behind Solheim's move to equate a banned terrorist outfit wanted by Interpol, India and Sri Lanka with that of an internationally recognized state to give the edge to the LTTE? Isn't Solheim aiming to confer a status to the LTTE which the entire international community has refused to grant?

Besides, where has his endeavors to give parity of status to the LTTE and his partisan role taken him? All his maneuvers have gone round in circles and brought him to square one because the LTTE would either sabotage the agreements (example: CFA) or walk out on flimsy excuses. The last time this occurred was in June when the LTTE walked out even before the talks began in Geneva 2. It was trumpeted by Solheim as a big break-through under impossible circumstances but like everyone who relied on the LTTE he ended with an egg on his face.

His failures stem mainly from his misguided notion of treating both as "equal partners" which has no legal, political or pragmatic validity. This elevation of both parties to the status of "equal partners" plays a major role in Norwegian thinking and strategy.

But, as revealed in the unfolding events, this is a strategy that has emboldened the LTTE to go in the opposite direction of peace.It has neither kept the LTTE in the peace process nor advanced the peace process. On the contrary, it has made them believe that Eelam is the next step after the parity of status granted by Solheim.

Past experiences also confirm that Solheim's strategy will not take anybody anywhere. Having painted himself into a corner from which he cannot get out Solheim has no way out but to stay where he is, giving the edge to the LTTE, because that is the only way he can win the favour of the LTTE to remain as a player in the peace process. If he withdraws from this ill-fated "strategy" he knows that he will be thrown out like the Truce Monitors from the EU.

The sole responsibility for getting stuck in this rut lies with Solheim. It was Balasingham, his buddy, who was clawing every inch of the way to gain parity of status, whether in making opening speeches, or in laying down conditions for negotiations.

Balasingham's line of "you-have-your-prime-minister-and-we-have-our-own" announced at the one-and-only Killinochchi press conference is Holy Scripture for Solheim. He operated on the premise that he could win the favour of Balasingham by according him that equal status. In letting Balasingham gain the upper hand Solheim over-estimated the LTTE negotiator's power to swing things the Norwegian way. It was fatal mistake. Each time he favoured Balasingham he neither won anything substantial from either the LTTE or the GoSL.

Balasingham tricked Solheim into believing that he could be made use of for Solheim's purposes though he never deviated from Prabhakaran's agenda. Solheim, in short, was led up the garden path. This flawed strategy is one of the main reasons why Solheim and Bauer are doomed to fail. They came as problem-solvers. Now they stand naked as a conspicuous part of the problem.

Besides, his decision to give parity of status to a banned terrorist group in Sri Lanka would have some justification if his government gives the same consideration to all other banned terrorist groups. But what parity of status has Solheim and his side-kick Jon Hanssen Bauer given to Osama Bin Laden's Al Quaida fighting the Norwegian forces stationed in Afghanistan? Do the Norwegians confer them equality of status or do they shoot them down like dogs if they step out of line? Three Muslim civilians were shot in Afghanistan by Norwegian soldiers because they were demonstrating outside their camp.

Which member of the Co-chairs demanded an international commission to inquire into the killing of non-combatant Afghans by the Norwegians?

Contradictory evidence like this has undermined the public confidence in Solheim's role. He pretends to blame both sides in the hope of being seen as a neutral player but he has failed, time and again, to convince the GoSL and the Sri Lankans for the simple
reason that his nakedness can be seen beneath the fig leaf each time puffs of Vanni winds lifts it up.

The Sri Lankan public refuses to believe in the neutrality of Solheim because his moves and counter-moves have consistently given the edge to the LTTE. His manipulations to con Ranil Wickremesinghe into signing the CFA by promising an "international safety
net" gave the edge to the LTTE. Norwegian state patronage given to the banned LTTE agents on Norwegian soil, in violation of international law, gives the edge to the LTTE. Each time he knocks hard on the head of the GoSL and gently slaps the wrists of the Tamil Tigers as a sign of his neutrality Solheim gives the edge to the LTTE.

The financing of LTTE agents and LTTE institutions from the time Red Banna began its operations in Sri Lanka in the early eighties has given the edge to the LTTE. When the local head of Red Banna came back as Norway's ambassador to Sri Lanka it was to give the edge to the LTTE. When in Geneva 1, Solheim stunned the GoSL team by ruling in favour of Balasingham he was giving the edge to the LTTE. In Geneva 1 when Solheim was pressuring the GoSL to let his boozing buddy, Anton Balasingham, make the opening speech he was giving he edge to the LTTE. The lovey-dovey relationship that went on between "Bala and Erik" on stage and off stage gave the edge to the LTTE. When Vidar Helgessen pressured G. L. Peiris to address "Bala" as "Your Excellency" it gave the edge to the LTTE.

The list goes on. When Jon Hanssen Bauer, the failed successor to his failed predecessor, Erik Solheim told Norwegian radio that they consider both sides as "equal partners" he was giving the edge to the LTTE.

When Bauer and Erik blame the EU ban for the failure of their efforts to bring about peace they are exonerating the LTTE of their unacceptable violence and giving the edge to the LTTE. When Solheim blames the GoSL for not taming the Karuna Group (a group that was with the LTTE when Solheim got both parties to sign the CFA) he is giving the edge to the LTTE.

To all appearances they are just two failed interventionists who are looking for scapegoats and the best way out for them is to blame the EU, the Sri Lankan government, para-militaries, etc., repeating the same line as that of the LTTE. The intended impact of
repeating the LTTE line is to give the edge to their partners in crime in the Vanni.

This circus of performing clowns from Norway and Killinochchi has gone on so long that the people are refusing to buy any more tickets for the "Erik and Bala" show. From the beginning the Norwegians got the NGO claque to clap for them by buying each clap with Norwegian kroner. A common sight at this circus will be Jehan Perera, A. T. Ariyaratne, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Rohan Edrisinghe, Kumar Rupesinghe - the usual jokers applauding the clowns from Oslo and Killinochchi. But Norwegian money talks. Norwegian even got Jehan Perera to talk against at the World Alliance for Peace in Sri Lanka (WAPS) conference held in Oslo.

Just to appease his Norwegian paymasters Jen Perera told Norwegian media that it was a meeting of "extremists". The WAPS conference was addressed by leading authorities on Sri Lankan terrorism like Prof. Peter Chalk of Rand Corporation think-tank, Paul Harris, the correspondent of Daily Telegraph who was thrown out by Ranil Wickremesinghe for exposing his sell-out to the LTTE, Stewart Bell, of the Canadian Nation and author of Snow Tigers, sociologist Dr. Susantha Goonetilleke, Prof. Asoka Bandarage, Professor of
Women's Studies, Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts, USA, leading Tamil dissidents from Europe, etc. When Jehan Perera, one of the main recipients of Norwegian kroner, is asked to name the "extremists" he grins sheepishly.

Judging by the available evidence, the upshot of the roles of Solheim and his NGO mob in Colombo has been to worse the situation, despite their claim to be experts in conflict resolution. The LTTE continues to drag on, turning on and turning off peace talks to suit
its military and political agendas without any end in sight.

Solheim and his NGO gang will also go along with this on-again-off-again tactics of the LTTE blaming, of course, the GoSL at practically every turn. Their objective is to twist the arm of the GoSL, with international pressure, to open the door for the talks over and over again by offering concessions to the LTTE.

But at the end of the day when talks fail they jointly blame the GoSL for not giving into everything that the LTTE demands. In short, their reluctance to draw the line and say enough is enough has encouraged the LTTE to rely on Solheim to pull their chestnuts out of the fire. Solheim, therefore, cannot escape his share of the responsibility for the intransigent behavior of the LTTE.

Besides, Solheim has to take the greater share of the blame for the simple reason that he has stepped out of the parameters of his role as a "facilitator". This job description is critical. It means that he is not an "arbitrator" dictating the terms and conditions of the process and its final outcome. Nor is he a "mediator" sitting in the middle with certain discretionary powers to direct the exercise in a preferred direction. He is merely a "facilitator" to bring both parties together after consultation with both parties. But he alternates between an "arbitrator" and "mediator", with his one-sided rulings that gives the edge to the LTTE. It is when he fails that he takes cover behind the claim of being a mere "facilitator" dependent helplessly on both parties. This is true to some extent but what is critical is his sneaky way of putting his weight behind the LTTE whenever there is an opening for him to intervene. This interventionist role, going only one-way, has cropped up frequently, leading eventually to land the peace process to where it is now: disaster.

The Norwegians are very much like the Tamil Tigers: they opt to play the role of the underdog when they are down. When they have the power they ride roughshod over anybody crossing their path. The Norwegians do not hesitate to claim glory and kudos when they produce bits and pieces of paper like the Ceasefire Agreement. Then they parade as the greatest experts on peace-making on earth. When the CFA -- the worthless paper which has not served any stake holder except the Vanni arachchis -- was shot down in flames by Solheim's political allies in the LTTE he blames the GoSL for not accommodating the escalating demands of the LTTE.

The CFA was drafted primarily as a tool for the LTTE to consolidate its position -- mainly control of territory – based on Erik-Bala notion of two "equal partners" sharing power in the same mountain.

But this false assumption ignored the Chinese wisdom which is encapsulated in the maxim that there can't be two tigers in the same mountain. It gave maximum freedom and power for the LTTE to run amok, violating all known cannons of international humanitarian laws. There were hardly any restraints on LTTE movements but restraints were placed on the Sri Lankan forces. There was no clause inserted for the LTTE to disarm -- the primary condition laid down in peace deals from Ireland to Aceh – but Ranil Wicremesinghe signed (See Clause 1.2 (a) of CFA.) to disarm the deep penetration force (LRRP) and he implemented it to the letter when his hounds raided the Athurigiriya safe house. CFA is the prime example where Solheim diddled Ranil Wickremesinghe and handed over power to Velupillai Prabhakaran. But what has he got out of CFA except a bad name as a failure?

And what has Wickremesinghe got out of CFA except a kick in the pants?

When I met Solheim in Oslo he was complaining bitterly about the failure of the GoSL to disarm the "para-militaries" (meaning Tamil armed groups opposed to Prabhakaran). It was another example of his manoeuvres to weaken the Sri Lankan government and strengthen the hands of the LTTE militarily, territorially and internationally. The taped phone conversation between the Norwegian Ambassador, Westborg and the LTTE and Bradman Weerakoon and the LTTE reveal the extent to which they were willing to go along with the LTTE -- in the name of peace, of course!

Solheim's idea of making peace is to intervene, through international pressure, to protect and to appease the LTTE. When he failed to do so with the EU he lashed out against them. His technique of "facilitating" runs through a very simple pattern: each time he finds it difficult to change the intransigent stance of the LTTE he picks his next easiest option of blaming the GoSL for not giving into LTTE demands. Of course, helping the LTTE to win their demands is also another way of helping himself to be in the peace process playing his usual interventionist role. It is apparent that without the concessions made by the GoSL both Solheim and Bauer would have been out of a job long time ago.

Consider also the Norwegian responsibility of appointing the Truce Monitors as laid down in the CFA. Norway picked the Truce Monitors who were flown in to the conflict zone with excellent credentials of their trained skills to turn their necks the other way when the LTTE went on the rampage, violating the CFA 95% of the time. When the LTTE sank a Chinese ship in the Palk Strait the Truce Monitors even saw "Third (ghost) Party" operating in that neck of the woods! Ulf Henriccson also saw the Sri Lankan Army killing the aid workers in Sampoor when the LTTE was still in control of it! While the Norwegians were treating the LTTE as "equal partners" of the sovereign state of Sri Lanka the former head of the Truce Monitors, Hagrup Haukland, elevated the "Pol Potist regime" (New York Times) as "freedom fighters".

Is it surprising that the Solheim-led peace process has ended in the hell hole in which it is now? Neither in handling the negotiations nor in handling has the monitoring of the truce had Solheim, the chief overseer, succeeded. He has blundered all the way from Oslo to Colombo. Solheim's claim to fame apart from bed-hopping, according to his biography, is the Ceasefire Agreement.

The CFA which was supposed to be Solheim's masterpiece is in tatters. With each failure at the talks his excuses for passing the buck to others are wearing thin. His duty as the man-in-the-middle was to be more pragmatic and less partisan. Solheim is now making a desperate bid to cast off the guilt on his shoulders by blaming it on others. In addition to blaming the GoSL, para-militaries, EU, and anti-LTTE political circles the Solheim-Bauer duo has listed the Sri Lankan media too as carping and irritating critics.

If, however, he had paused to take a critical look at his own failures he might come round to think twice about his transparently partisan role. Neither Solheim nor Bauer has paused to analyse why their loud protests of being neutral players have failed to win a solid vote bank in Sri Lanka, except, of course, the NGOs and the LTTE. In fact, the political alignment of this duo behind the Norwegians alone stands out as a confirmation of the old adage of birds of a feather flocking together. Which terrorist group will not line up behind Norway if they too are elevated to the rank of a state, or exonerated as "freedom fighters"?

Solheim and Bauer have demonstrated a queer sense of neutrality and balance when they equate the Tamil Tigers to the Sri Lankan state.

From what text book of conflict resolution they picked up this counter-productive and self-defeating formula is yet to be revealed. The flow-on impact of this assumption has had a negative impact on the peace process. The distance traveled by the Norwegian down their interventionist road is littered with corpses of the war-weary people. They have nothing to take home except the pictures of the increasing headstones in Prabhakaran's neatly kept graveyards.

- Asian Tribune -

Share this


.