Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Accountability issues of a different kind

Sri Lanka peace process: The role of NATO, RAW and Norwegian military experts



Disgraced peacemaker Solheim with LTTE leader Prabhakaran

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Norwegian envoy to the Sri Lankan peace process, Erik Solheim has claimed that he drafted the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) signed by the then government of Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and the LTTE on February 22, 2002. Solheim was responding to a query by the one-time darling of the Norwegians, Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka (Efforts, Failures and Lessons-Volume II edited by Dr. Rupesinghe-first published in February 2006).

Now that Solheim has declared his intentions to publish memoirs early next year and go before the UN group tasked with investigating alleged atrocities committed during the Feb 22, 2002 to May 19, 2009 period, it would be pertinent to examine the conduct of the foreign peace makers.

Asked by Dr. Rupesinghe to explain the circumstances under which the CFA came into being, Solheim said that having had extensive discussions with LTTE theoretician, Anton Balasingham as well as ministers, G. L. Peiris and Milinda Moragoda, he drafted a new proposal. That process had taken about two months.

Solheim, presently Chair of the Development Assistance Committee in the USA, is also on record as having said that he along with a colleague, Vidar Helgesen, one-time Secretary of State, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs intended to launch a book on the Sri Lankan conflict. Helgesen was one of those present at the inauguration of direct talks between Sri Lanka and the LTTE at Sattahip, Thailand, on September 16, 2002.

Solheim said that they would launch a book early next year to explain the Norwegian role in Sri Lanka. The book is authored by Mark Salter, a longtime speechwriter and adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

In response to another query by Dr. Rupesinghe that dealt with Norway’s relationship with the Co-Chairs to the peace process, namely the US, EU and Japan as well India, Solheim emphasized that all major decisions regarding the peace process had been made in consultation with India. Interestingly, the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had been in power (October 1999 to May 2004) during the Norwegian efforts to work out an agreement between the LTTE and the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Soon after Mrs Kumaratunga lost the parliamentary polls in Dec 2001, the Norwegians launched a bid to finalize a CFA between the new government and the LTTE. The CFA came into operation on February 23, 2002.

Dr. John Gooneratne, who had been with the government Peace Secretariat from its inception in January 2002 to May 2006, explained serious shortcomings in the CFA over a year after the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009. Appearing before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) on September 15, 2010, Dr. Gooneratne revealed that four key matters proposed by the government weren’t included in the CFA. (A) There had been no reference to the requirement to use the CFA to pave the way for talks to find a negotiated settlement. (B) Specific reference to the prohibition of unlawful importation of arms, ammunition and equipment was not included. (C) Although the LTTE was allowed to engage in ‘political work’ in government controlled areas, other political parties weren’t given access to areas under LTTE control (D) Forcible conscription of personnel to the LTTE’s fighting cadre too, was not added to the list of prohibited activities.

Dr. Gooneratne, a veteran career diplomat faulted the then UNP government as well as the Norwegians for being hasty in their approach. Dr. Gooneratne said: "What lessons can we learn from this experience? Firstly, negotiating on such security and military matters should have been a more inclusive format than by just the party in power. Secondly, in negotiating documents such as the CFA, thoroughness should be the standard, and not just the speed."

Solheim’s proposed book can respond to these allegations.

In his exclusive interview with Dr. Rupesinghe, Solheim claimed that Norway lacked any intelligence that provided Norway an insight into the ‘military balance’ of the government and the LTTE. Dr. Rupesinghe quoted Solheim as having said that what was acceptable to the government and the LTTE would also have to be acceptable to Norway.

However, Solheim’s claim that Norway had been hampered by lack of intelligence was roundly contradicted by a costly joint examination undertaken by Gunnar Sorbo of the Chr. Michelsens Institute (CMI) and Jonathan Goodhand of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Their report titled Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009 released in September 2011 made specific reference to accessibility to best possible intelligence.

According to the report, the Norwegian led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) received intelligence from both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and India’s premier intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Thanks to NATO and India, those running the peace process couldn’t have been unaware of LTTE’s preparations for war. Norway received NATO support as a member of the military alliance (Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009 page 100).

The Norwegian study quoted the SLMM head as having said that RAW only reached them through informal channels, therefore they couldn’t be fully trusted.

"They weren’t giving it to us to be nice. We would always ask ourselves why they want us to know this. Intelligence provided by NATO only confirmed what they already knew," the SLMM chief was quoted as having said.

The Oslo-funded study revealed that the Norwegians had high level meetings in New Delhi with RAW.

The Norwegian-led SLMM comprised men from Scandinavian countries.

The study also cited the SLMM as having alleged that Sri Lanka, the LTTE and India opposed the mission having radar surveillance. Until the release of the CMI-SOAS study, there had never been any reference to the SLMM having the support of NATO as well as the RAW.

Why did Solheim chose to lie about the absence of credible intelligence, while having the backing of NATO? What was NATO’s role? Had the SLMM received intelligence as regards overseas procurement of weapons and the steady build-up of forces, LTTE units leading to the commencement of eelam war IV in early August 2006? Unfortunately, the Norwegians failed to take tangible measures to discourage the LTTE from resuming hostilities.

According to the CMI-SOAS report, Norway had offered to mediate as early as January 1991, after India pulled out troops deployed in the Northern and Eastern Province in accordance with the July1987 peace accord. India completed the withdrawal of its army during the fourth week of March 1990.

Solheim would have been among some 120 persons interviewed by the CMI-SOAS team. According to the team, among those interviewed were Chandrika Kumaratunga, Ranil Wickremesinghe, those who were close to the LTTE, Norwegian officials as well as US and Indian officials et al.

Can Solheim take a position contrary to that of the CMI-SOAS findings?

Unfortunately, the government refused to cooperate with the investigation. Had the government granted approval for the CMI-SOAS to visit Sri Lanka, it could have had an opportunity to explain its point of view. They also examined a series of Wikileaks relevant to Sri Lanka. Regrettably, Sri Lanka never made an attempt at least to examine Wikileaks to ascertain the mindset of those Westerners as well as Indians who had dealt with the peace process here.

CMI-SOAS also made the startling revelation that on the night of Wickremesinghe’s election as the new Prime Minister following the December 2001 parliamentary polls, the UNP leader had phoned the then Norwegian ambassador Jon Westborg, requesting him to go ahead with preparations for talks with the LTTE.CMI-SOAS said: "Wickremesinghe’s victory clears the way to proceed as the LTTE had advocated: start with a ceasefire normalization and confidence building measures, while pushing the core substantive political issues backwards"

CMI-SOAS also contradicted Solheim with regard to his statement to Dr. Rupesinghe that Norway lacked the required intelligence and expertise to comprehend the military balance on the ground. According to the CMI-SOAS, Norwegian military experts helped work out what their report called military technicalities of de-escalation, advanced positions and front lines et al. Solheim should explain his failure to mention the support received from NATO as well as Norwegian military experts to facilitate the peace process (Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009-page 36).

Obviously, the separation of forces as mentioned in the CFA (1.4) had been recommended by the Norwegians. "Where forward defence localities have been established, the GoSL’s armed forces and the LTTE’s fighting formations shall hold their ground positions, maintaining a zone of separation of a minimum of 600 metres. However, each party reserves the right of movement within 100 metres of its own defence localities, keeping an absolute minimum distance of 400 metres between them. Where existing positions are closer than 100 metres, no such right of movement applies and the parties agree to ensure the maximum possible distance between their personnel." CFA (1.5) dealt with another critical aspect of the deployment of forces. "In areas where localities have not been clearly established, the status quo as regards areas controlled by the GoSL and the LTTE, respectively, on 24 December 2001, shall continue to apply, pending such demarcation as is provided in Article 1.6)."

Perhaps Solheim purposely omitted any reference to NATO as well as Norwegian military experts as the then Sri Lankan government hadn’t been briefed of their involvement. The then navy chief, Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri is on record as having said that the then government never gave the service chiefs as well as senior ground commanders an opportunity to study the CFA. Even five years after the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009, the government is yet to examine the Norwegian intervention here. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) didn’t have a mandate to inquire into many important aspects, including Norwegian intervention. The involvement of NATO as well as Norwegian military experts should be examined, particularly because the US was given access to the Sri Lankan military to examine its strengths and weaknesses at the onset of the peace process. There had never been such a study during the conflict. Did the US share its findings with other NATO members, including Norway? Perhaps, the LTTE received crucial information from some of those who had been involved in the peace process. CMI-SOAS acknowledged that Scandinavian truce monitors passing SLN (Sri Lankan Navy) intelligence to the LTTE, hence helping a weapons carrying LTTE vessel to escape. The controversy, according to the CMI-SOAS led to the removal of the then head of the SLMM, retired Maj. Gen. Trygve Tellefsen at the behest of President Kumaratunga. Did the peace facilitators, as well the as truce monitors pass on information to the LTTE?

Dr. Rupesinghe had been a key element of the Norwegian project in Sri Lanka at that time. It would be important to keep in mind that Dr. Rupesinghe had interviewed Solheim in his capacity as the Chairman of the Foundation for Co-Existence. That particular NGO had been one of the major recipients of Norwegian largesse. Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka (Efforts, Failures and Lessons-Volume II) edited by Dr. Rupesinghe badly exposed the Norwegians. The Norwegians would never have funded Dr. Rupesinghe’s project if they realized the LTTE was going to experience an unprecedented battlefield defeat. Don’t forget that none of those who contributed articles to Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka (Efforts, Failures and Lessons-Volume II) before the outbreak of eelam war IV, would have done so if they at least suspected the GoSL could crush the LTTE. They would never have envisaged the Norwegian government having to commission a study paving the way for Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009. Among the contributors were Bradman Weerakoon, Austin Fernando, G.L. Peiris, Bernard A.B. Goonatilleke as well as Keith Noyahr. Austin Fernando acknowledged that the armed forces chiefs as well as senior ground commanders were deprived of an opportunity to study the CFA. Fernando said: "The military chiefs were not consulted in the drafting of the CFA. Of course, a casual opportunity was given to them to discuss the draft with the ministers of Defence (Tilak Marapone) and Constitutional Affairs (Prof. G.L. Peiris)."