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Sri Lanka strips Norway of peace role

[AFP, Monday, 13 April 2009 13:14 No Comment]

Sri Lanka on Monday stripped Norway of its role as broker of the island’s moribund peace process, bringing an end to a decade-long effort to halt one of Asia’s longest-running civil wars.


The decision comes as the Sri Lankan government says it is on the verge of totally crushing the Tamil Tiger rebels, who have been cornered by the army in a narrow strip of jungle along the northeast coast.


It also came as the Sri Lankan army began a unilateral two-day ceasefire it says will allow trapped civilians to escape the conflict zone — most likely before an all-out final push is launched.


"The government of Sri Lanka perceives that there is no room for Norway to act as (peace) facilitator," a Colombo government official who did not want to be named told AFP.


A formal letter was handed over to Norway’s ambassador to Colombo, Tore Hattrem, on Monday, the official added.


The dismissal of Oslo as peace broker followed an attack against Sri Lanka’s embassy in Norway by Tamil demonstrators. Colombo said repeated appeals to the local authorities to protect the diplomatic compound had been ignored.


Sri Lanka has also recently taken exception to Norway arranging a telephone conversation between a senior LTTE leader and a UN envoy to discuss the island’s humanitarian crisis.


Norway’s removal cuts off an important conduit for communications with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) — either with Colombo, the United Nations or other countries promoting the peace process.

Sri Lanka had formally invited the Scandinavian nation to act as peace broker in January 2000, and Oslo managed to secure a ceasefire which came into force in February 2002.


Norway’s peace role was backed by the United States, the European Union, Japan and Sri Lanka’s immediate neighbour, India.


The Sri Lankan government, however, officially pulled out of the truce in January last year, accusing the Tamil Tigers of frequent ceasefire violations and saying they had been using the break in fighting to re-arm.

For their part, the Tamil Tigers have accused the island’s ethnic Sinhalese majority of not being interested in a peace settlement.


The first round of peace talks was held in September 2002 in Sattahip, Thailand but after six rounds of talks the process came to a halt in March 2003. It was briefly revived in 2006 before collapsing.


There was no immediate comment from the Tigers about the dismissal of Norway. The rebels have also not reacted to Colombo’s temporary ceasefire.


Troops halted their offensive on the orders of President Mahinda Rajapakse to mark the traditional Sinhala and Tamil New Year. Rajapakse ordered the unilateral ceasefire after intense international pressure, including repeated calls from the United Nations and the US.


A military spokesman said that the Tigers had killed one soldier and wounded another on Monday morning, but the military did not retaliate.


The United Nations estimates that 100,000 people are packed into the small strip of jungle still held by the rebels.


The Tigers have been accused of holding the civilians hostage, while the government has been accused of firing indiscriminately into the area.

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