It was a big mistake for the EU to ban the LTTE. There was pressure from the USA and the Sri Lankan government, said Major General Ulf Henricsson, who was heading the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) in 2006. “I would say that was a big mistake, because it stopped the possibility to get a peaceful solution and negotiation,” Henricsson told TamilNet in an interview in Sweden on Saturday. Acting on solutions now, compared to Bosnia, he cited lack of interest in the West. He was stressing on the importance of India in acting on the question, but said that India is not interested in getting engaged. China and India and other countries are not interested in having the international community on that territory, he added.
On a question about the absence of political solution in the reports and resolutions of the last five years, whether this gives space and time for Colombo to complete the genocide, and whether there is a continued injustice committed, Henricsson said, “I would say you are right.”
“Sri Lanka does not want to have a settlement.”
“I would say one of my favourites on Sri Lanka is Gothabya Rajapaksa. As long as he is there as the Minister of Defence, you will not have a solution. This man does not want any peaceful settlement,” he added.
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When asked to compare Bosnia and Sri Lanka where he worked, he said that these conflicts are more similar than different.
The IC took two years to respond and engage in Bosnia.
“But it was on our own backyard.”
“I would say that it turned when the opinion in the single countries turned against and told the politicians we have to do something. That was a difference you had the pressure from the public opinion and the media, which made the governments in UN to react. You didn’t have that pressure on Sri Lanka.”
Henricsson in his interview was hinting that the responsibility to act lies with India and with the pressure of public opinion and media in India.
Full transcript of the interview follows:
TamilNet: During the final stages of the Vanni war, Tamils across the world took to streets in large numbers and demanded the international community to stop the war. But, the International Community didn’t do it. The international community is now accused for this failure by all the reports. Now, the Tamils demand to stop the continued-genocide. But, the IC is not prepared to stop even that. It is not even recognizing the genocide. Is it a continued failure?
Ulf Henricsson: Yes. I can agree on that. But, Sri Lanka is not the only place where we see this. We have – for example today – the conflict in Syria.
The international community can’t or don’t want to engage in all the conflicts. You don’t have the resources, and you don’t want to pay for it. You have the opinion in a lot of countries against such engagement.
Sorry to say, but Sri Lanka is far away from Western Europe and North America.
Without pressure from the opinion and media, nothing happens. That is a problem. And that [problem] happens also for Sri Lanka, as also in many other places.
Most countries are not engaged in this process. For a Swede it is very far way. It is easy to ignore it. If we have had one conflict, then the engagement would have been better.
You have of course also a big player north of you: India. What India says is very important for this region. I don’t think India is very interested in being engaged, sorry to say. But, I think there is definitely from a moral point of view yes, but it is a matter of engagement.
TamilNet: You have experience in monitoring peace both in Bosnia and in the island of Sri Lanka. The Bosnian situation was very well recognized as genocide and the IC delivered an appropriate political solution. But, there is an unwritten censorship imposed by the world Establishments in considering the case of Eelam Tamils as a question of genocide. Do you find any duplicity of the International Community on this?
Henricsson: Well, I would say that in former Yugoslavia it took the international community two years to react on and to engage. We were as bad then in Yugoslavia too without the proper actions.
There was a big difference for Europeans because it was close to us. It was on our own backyard.
I would say that it turned when the opinion in the single countries turned against and told the politicians we have to do something. That was a difference you had the pressure from the public opinion and the media, which made the governments in UN to react. You didn’t have that pressure on Sri Lanka.
I would say that these conflicts for me are more similar than different.
When I went to Sri Lanka a French colleague told me don’t think you are going to Bosnia now. But the biggest difference in the mission was the weather! But the mechanics behind the war was the same – it was about money, property and power. All conflicts, you see Syria, whatever. It is not about ethnicity and religion. You use it as fuel for the conflict. If you have a decent social and economic justice, then you will not have conflict.
TamilNet: You have mentioned that there is a lack of pressure from the [global] media in the case of Sri Lanka. What causes this?
Henricsson: First you have of course difficulty for the media to work on Sri Lanka. You have restrictions from the government and a reclusive country. You are not welcome. That’s one reason.
For the big media in the western part of the world North America and Europe, it is not interesting for the people. You don’t sell papers. That’s a hard fact.
I don’t know how to do it. You have to engage the opinion. You have to get the international community to act. The UN, for example.
But, the UN is the sum of all members and there you have a lot of countries that are not interested in being engaged on Sri Lanka.
You have for example China, India. Because you are on their backyard and if you start to react on what happens of Sri Lanka you make an example, you go into another region and react.
China and India and other countries are not interested in having the international community on that territory.
That was the reason that Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission was run by Norway because of India didn’t want UN. They already had UN in Kashmir, they didn’t want UN in South in Sri Lanka. It is very complicated and there are not quick fixes.
TamilNet: After 2009, postmortem-reports have come from Norway and the UN. These reports were on the roles and failures of the many actors. But, nothing said concretely on the kind of political solution that should be delivered to the victims. Even the US resolution that is going to be tabled at Geneva is expected to call for only international investigation on the war crimes. There may be nothing on an international mechanism to stop the ongoing genocide. The five year process make many political observers to think that ‘space and time’ is given to the Sri Lankan State to complete the genocide. Do you think that there is a continued injustice, and that is deliberate?
Henricsson: I haven’t been in Sri Lanka since 2006. But, I have read and I would say you are right.
Of course, the government of Sri Lanka does not want to have a settlement.
I would say one of my favourites on Sri Lanka is Gothabya Rajapaksa. As long as he is there as the Minister of Defence, you will not have a solution. This man does not want any peaceful settlement.
TamilNet: But, is there an existing genocide and injustice?
Henricsson: I can’t say that. I will say that the situation has continued with a lot of incidents where people are killed disappeared and so on. That was the case in 2006 and it still is. You will never solve this until you have a democratic government that listen to all populace. The present government is not listening and do not work for a peaceful solution.
TamilNet: As the head of the peace mission in the island you were involved in the cases of the Moothoor massacre of aid workers in 2006 and in the Maavilaa’ru incident that is portrayed as something that triggered off the war in the island. You have already given affidavits on them and they have come in print. Reflecting back, do you think that the war and its ‘end’ were pre-designed or just star-crossed as the Norwegian peace facilitator Erik Solheim and former US Assistant Secretary Richard Armitage were implying?
Henricsson: I would say that Maavilaa’ru and Moothoor case triggered the final solution, but I think it was already planned. And we sought to stop it.
We called LTTE to open up the dams and it took rather long time and I talked to the government told don’t start this of course we can open the dams but nobody listened, neither the LTTE nor the government. The government wanted the conflict and LTTE made a mistake because they thought they were stronger than they were.
Both parties had the wrong attitude to the conflict. That is my view. It was obvious that the Moothoor case caused by the security forces or somebody linked to the security forces because otherwise we were there to monitor the situation. But, we were not allowed to check on this and that’s the reason for me having the opinion that it was the security forces that made this massacre, definitely.
TamilNet: You have gone on record stating that the EU ban on the LTTE did not happen in the European Parliament but in the coffee shops of Brussels under extreme British-American pressure. You were reportedly consulted on the matter before the ban on the LTTE declared in the EU in 2006. What were your submissions at that time?
Henricsson: We, the international community on Sri Lanka, the SLMM and the different embassies and the UN, advised the EU not to ban the Tamil Tigers.
We said you should put pressure on them to come to negotiating table, but it is too early to ban the LTTE. Everybody who worked on Sri Lanka and we had the word from diplomats who worked on Sri Lanka: OK we will wait.
But then, everything happened very fast. And of course a lot of pressure from Sri Lankan government to make this, and you had American pressure and so on. Then you had the sea incident outside Mullaiththeevu where EU just listened to the Sri Lankan government version.
They never phoned us to ask what happened because we had a different picture on that. Then it was to just pounce, and the ban came. Then you gave the government more or less a wild card to act, because the LTTE was terrorist then.
That was a part of the big war against terrorism. It was more a world-wide wish from the big powers. The LTTE also came in it. But, for me, it was a mistake.
I said if you should list the LTTE, list the Sri Lankan government too. Because, they used the same methods. That was obvious. So, I would say that was a big mistake, because it stopped the possibility to get a peaceful solution and negotiation, which I would say that the government did not want. The LTTE acted not too smartly in this situation, they were too stubborn.
TamilNet: In the globalized world of today, decisions affecting the entire humanity are ultimately taken by a very few, but masses of people, military officers, civil servants, diplomats and media persons are forced to implement those decisions. Many of them have their conscience. For the betterment of humanity in future, what do you think the conscience-minded could do in mobilizing themselves and in creating a better world?
Henricsson: That was the ten thousand dollar question. I don’t know.
You have to engage people but how? It is very difficult.
We have talked about it earlier and normal people have a lot to do in their common days, they have lot of engagement: family, children the car, house everything.
This kind of situation as on Sri Lanka or Syria, or whatever, it takes a small part of your life. You don’t have the energy to engage in. It its too difficult. For a Swede it’s very hard to understand the conflict in Sri Lanka or what ever. We live in a quite different world, that’s a problem.
I have used a lot of time since I started on the Balkan, as to try and get people to engage, and they are engaged. When you talk about it in a lecture they are upset. Then it fades out.
The highest priority for us is to have secure situation and food for the day. And that’s the same in Sri Lanka. Most people didn’t want the conflict. Most people just want to have security and food for the day.
Then, for example on Sri Lanka, we talk about democracy. But, if you starve and have bad security, you don’t give a damn in democracy. Just not interested because your day is built to survive.
You have to be educated. I would say the best way of suppressing the people, is don’t educate them. If you can raise the education level, you’d have a better world but there are no quick fixes. It takes decades, maybe even centuries to solve it. That’s my simple view on Tamils in conflict.
TamilNet: What kind of engagement do you expect from the humanity to have a better world?
Henricsson: We need a lot of engage people that work and have the energy to work on it. We take small steps all the time but we are very anxious to make it quick. But, it will not happen quickly because you have a big recession. Those in power want to stay in power. If you look to Ukraine now, people want to stay in power. They want to protect their property and money. They are not interested in letting the other. The same on Sri Lanka. You have a political elite. They have interests. And those with money and property control the media and they control the message.