By Rajiva Wijesinha –
I have long had faith in the Norwegian government and its representatives in Sri Lanka, even though – as I have always made clear to them – I thought that Eric Solheim was a shifty character and should not have been trusted. However, though he was not I think an honest broker as far as the 2002 Cease Fire Agreement and the negotiations that followed were concerned, I believe the Norwegian Mission here more than made up for his lapses.
At least I believe that is true after the initial period, when Jon Westbord was Ambassador. He was unlike Solheim however in that his motives were misplaced idealism, rather than personal advancement. Westborg had after all been in Sri Lanka in the eighties, when elements in the Jayewardene government, led by Cyril Mathew, had encouraged and indeed participated in attacks on Tamils, and his mindset was governed therefore by total sympathy for the Tamil cause.
Even in the eighties he had been what might be termed an activist, in that he had supported a lot of colonization in the Vanni by Tamils of Indian origin. I don’t think he saw this as a deliberate attempt to influence the demographics of the area, but rather as providing solace to those who had been attacked in their homes. After all it was the Indian Tamils who suffered most in both 1977 and 1981, despite the fact that Mr Thondaman was solidly behind the government by the latter date.
That indeed is why I have found false – as well as unacceptable, which it certainly is – the claim of Mathew apologists that the Tamils deserved what they got because they had espoused separatism and they did not speak out against this. The Indian Tamils supported government, but they still suffered, making it clear that the perpetrators of violence were simply vicious thugs.
I should note that this violence – and Mr Westborg’s sympathy – did contribute to demographic change in the Vanni. While I believe it would be totally wrong for government to engage in colonization schemes now to settle Sinhalese in the North, they should certainly develop a better recording system of the numbers of those of Indian origin who did settle in the North in the seventies and eighties. This would make it clear that sponsored colonization has been an ongoing process, and to blame only government for such activities is erroneous.
I say this because I was astonished to find so many who spoke Sinhalese in Manik Farm in 2009. The explanation was that they had come from the Hill Country. I still come across many such now in my meetings at Divisional Secretariats, and I find that they are particularly affected by land problems, given that they did not get title deeds when they moved to the Vanni during that period. They should certainly be provided with land security now, having spent so much time there, but it should also be made clear that using them in order to make claims about traditional homelands is just plain nonsense.
Westborg, as I have explained, had his own agenda, but his successors were I believe balanced in their approach, as was the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, which scrupulously recorded all violations of the Cease Fire Agreement, making it clear that it was the LTTE that was predominantly guilty. Though some younger members – as their seniors explained to me – came out with erroneously ideal notions, they soon learned the truth about the LTTE. And most of them did their job honestly, as was shown for instance when they found the weapons on the ship that the then government had wanted the navy to set free, when they were trying to have it searched.
Mr Brattskar, whom I met only briefly, most memorably when he came back from the Vanni to brief Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva and myself on his last visit to the Tigers, was one reason I think the Tigers withdrew from the talks, because he made it clear that the Sri Lankan government had every right to raise the issue of child recruitment. The Wickremesinghe government had not raised any issues itself, a habit that Prof G L Peiris brought into negotiations with the TNA too, a sure recipe for disaster. But the Rajapaksa government, at least in those days, was made of sterner stuff, and the Tigers realized that they would not have an easy ride in discussions, with the Norwegians also making it clear that they could not simply rule complaints out.
Mr Brattskar too it was who told us what we already knew, but which the aid agencies then working in the North had kept scrupulously quiet about, namely that the Tigers had been recruiting one member from each family, and were beginning to demand a second. It was clear from his despair that he realized they were intransigent, and that the Peace Process was dead, though it was only formally abrogated a few months later, after the SLMM had made one more attempt to persuade the LTTE Peace Secretariat to talk to us.
Brattskar’s successor inherited a difficult situation, but handled it well, as did his successor, who had the merit of having been his Deputy, so she understood the situation thoroughly. However it seems to have been during their time that the association with the Bodhu Bala Sena, which Wimal Weerawansa has highlighted, began.
The explanation we have now been given is that there was simply an effort to engage with monks who had been hostile to the Norwegians, and that is why contacts were initiated. But, given that this engagement involved sponsorship for a visit to Norway, one can’t help feeling that further enticements might have been made available if a suitable response was forthcoming. I hope therefore that the Norwegians will ensure that a full inquiry is made into what happened, and whether any funds were provided by any Norwegian source, to the BBS or individual members of it.