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Desperate Move

Almost two weeks after taking office, President Mahinda Rajapakse has finally taken the most basic step towards a peaceful solution: inviting Norway to resume facilitating a dialogue between his government and the LTTE. The new government in Oslo was the first international actor to congratulate the new President and offer its good offices in ending Sri Lanka’s protracted and agonizing conflict. But Mr. Rajapakse has ignored the outstretched hand and snubbed Norway in his inaugural speech. And it is only amid the erupting violence in Army controlled Jaffna that he relented and sought Norway’s help. By contrast the Liberation Tigers requested the new government in Oslo to facilitate talks as far back as October. President Rajapakse has prevaricated and fumbled, trying to find alternatives to Norway – but none has been forthcoming.

During his election campaign, Mr. Rajapske – and especially his Sinhala nationalist allies, the Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP) and the JHU – repeatedly lambasted and denigrated Norway’s efforts to promote peace in Sri Lanka. In the past, Norway’s diplomats have been subject to racial and communal slurs whilst aspersions have been cast on their country’s intentions and integrity. This mindset, from a Tamil perspective, is an integral part of the conflict. The insistence on a third party to broker talks remains a Tamil one; the Sinhala-dominated state has, jealously guarding a misguided notion of its sovereignty, long resisted ‘external’ involvement – unless, of course, it was to help crush the Tigers. The LTTE, an armed non-state actor, is well aware of international interests in Sri Lanka’s conflict and any political solution to it. Yet the Tigers have embraced the Norwegian role and, despite some misgivings, international involvement in it. Indeed it is not the internationalization of the conflict, but ‘over-internationalization’ – the foisting of external preferences - that they have resisted.

Norway’s assistance has never been more crucial for Sri Lanka’s peace. Oslo is not only the sole acceptable conduit for dialogue between both sides, but as head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, is intimately connected with micro-efforts to prevent an outbreak of war. Norway has thus earned the gratitude of the people of the Northeast for their indefatigable efforts. But many Sinhala leaders have irresponsibly heaped invectives on the only international actor both prepared to get involved in promoting peace and – at one stage at least – acceptable to both sides. It is hard not to draw the conclusion hat Mr. Rajapske’s invitation to Norway this week is less an act of statesmanship than a desperate scrabble forced upon him by events in the North - and thus hardly the basis for any optimism.