Internal conflicts that have a deep structural asymmetry and powerful protagonists are less likely to reach a quick political settlement, due to their protracted and long-term nature.
Norway’s peacemaking attempts in Sri Lanka, spanning six years of negotiations from 2001 to 2007, ended when the 2002 Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA) was abrogated in early January 2008.
It was the longest spell of negotiations between the Sri Lankan Government (GoSL) and the LTTE (hereinafter used as ‘both parties’). The lessons learnt from Norway’s facilitation are worth recalling if Sri Lanka hopes, in the future, to seek any third-party assistance in a mediation process.
Norway’s ‘facilitation’ essentially combined shuttle diplomacy with multi-faceted reconciliation endeavours. No other Scandinavian country would give such a bulk of their money for development and humanitarian assistance. In this context, wealthy Norway’s entry into the Sri Lankan peace process was welcomed by both parties, at the early stages of negotiations.
Norway was convinced by both parties to pursue peace talks in good faith. Even though the CFA has now been abrogated and the SLMM gone, what is noteworthy is that the six-year long peace drive brought about, within the parties, a willingness to cooperate for a political solution.
Facilitation is the least forceful mechanism in ‘third-party mediation’. It essentially exchanges information between the conflicting parties to create a conducive environment for negotiations. In practice, however, this is a difficult task. Greater power disparity between the parties and increased militarism of the conflict often hamper successful third-party facilitation.
Norway entered the Sri Lankan peace process as a ‘back channel’, to establish confidence-building between the parties for intended peace talks. However, its efforts of peace brokering was largely unproductive. Norway was ineffective in removing power discrepancies, reducing tension and gaining public confidence for impartiality.
What were the drawbacks?
The CFA, entrenched as a tool for trust and cooperation, had been used mostly as a tool for argumentation. Even though there was a reduction of political killings in the early phase of the CFA, from the very start, the parties were unable to accept the other in good-faith. The Governments de-proscription of the LTTE was not perceived as a genuine goodwill gesture by the LTTE. Furthermore, the rejection of the LTTE’s ISGA proposal, and isolation from foreign funds became a huge concern for the Tigers. The increasing disagreements, mistrust and military antagonism made Norwegian efforts at confidence-building increasingly harder.
The Norwegian facilitation was not sufficient enough to ensure effective communication. The LTTE unilaterally withdrew from the sixth–round, symbolizing Norway’s ineffectiveness in confidence-building. The short-term cause for the LTTE decision was a misperception rather than a military matter. The LTTE saw the Washington Conference, prior to the Tokyo Conference, as a clear isolation of their party in front of the ‘US-led’ donor community. The LTTE claimed that both Norway and the GoSL were fully aware of prevailing legal constraints in the US, which prevented their participation at the parley.
In addition, Norway created doubts of their continuance in the peace process when it re-appeared in Geneva in 2006, after distancing itself from the process for three years, amidst heavy clashes. Norway’s efforts to use the ‘stick’ at this level of argumentation, and ‘carrots’ in terms of international Donor support were largely ignored by the parties by then.
Meanwhile the parties continued to directly accuse each other of breaking the truce. According to cumulative statistics recorded by the SLMM, from February 2002-Auguest 2006 there were 276 violations by the GoSL and 4176 by the LTTE. Disarmament and disengagement had apparently further heightened asymmetry. In reality, both parties used military enhancement as a tool for bargaining during the talks.
The only ‘stick’ the Norwegians could offer, to encourage cooperation and engagement in refinement, was the SLMM and Donor contributions. But did the SLMM perform overall as a confidence-building tool? And were the Donors supportive in peacemaking? The fact is that the SLMM just kept for ‘monitoring’ and ‘reporting’ and kept urging the parties to adopt peaceful cooperation.
This was ineffective in eliminating the gross ceasefire violations, and continued military accumulations. Furthermore the SLMM had to verify facts with a limited staff, and faced technical difficulties. The SLMM having to function from staff from Norway and Iceland only, from 2006 onwards, weakened the mission further.
Interestingly, Norway’s neutrality was often questioned during their time in the peace process. While some refused to accept the theory that neutrality exists in the real world of politics and others were skeptical about Norway’s impartiality.
However, criticism over Norway’s role had an obvious negative impact in maintaining consistency between the parties. The outspoken view of southern politics in Sri Lanka – known to be the fundamental nationalist led by the JVP and JHU – labelled Norway as “pro-Tigers” and as “New- Imperialists”.
Mostly, the arguments about Norway’s role have provided a political platform for those struggling in the political panorama of Sri Lanka. Therefore, even the few logical criticisms they presented had limited opportunity to be constructive in the society.
When looking at the six years of Norway’s facilitation in the Sri Lanka peace process, the active period of Norway’s facilitation has been limited for about one year during the six-rounds. Norway became passive and inefficient during the rest of the four years in terms of confidence-building and cessation of violence.
The only enforcement that Norway used was the international Donor pressure, which was also not used as a pacifying approach in the long run.
Finally, it is important to note that recalling these lessons will impact future international third-party mediation to be productive in peacemaking efforts in Sri Lanka.
The writer holds a M.Phil. in Peace and Conflict Studies in the University of Oslo, Norway. She currently works as the Programme Officer in Conflict Resolution and Peace Support Division. She is also a freelance researcher in Conflict Studies.