Thursday, January 3, 2008

Norway says Sri Lanka monitors likely to leave

OSLO, Jan 2 (Reuters) - Peace mediator Norway said on Wednesday that a Nordic ceasefire monitoring mission would likely withdraw from Sri Lanka after Colombo said it would end a 2002 truce with the rebel Tamil Tigers.

Norwegian Development Aid Minister Erik Solheim, who brokered the six-year-old ceasefire, said Norway was willing to carry on as facilitator of Sri Lankan peace talks as long as it enjoyed the confidence of the parties to the conflict.

The truce has been dead on the ground since a new phase of the two-decade civil war began in early 2006.

"I think it is most likely that it will have to be withdrawn," Solheim told Reuters, referring to the 30-strong Nordic monitoring mission. "Its presence in Sri Lanka is based on the ceasefire agreement."

"This (withdrawal) would weaken efforts to protect the civilian population, which would be most regrettable," he said in a statement earlier. Norway had hoped that keeping the Nordic monitors in place would provide a foundation on which to build future peace talks.

Solheim said it was not clear how quickly the mission would be withdrawn because the Sri Lankan government was required to give Norway official notice 14 days before abrogating the treaty, and had not yet done so.

The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission was pared down to 20 monitors from Norway and 10 from Iceland after the European Union labelled the Tigers a terrorist organisation, leading the Tigers to demand that Nordic EU members Finland, Denmark and Sweden leave.

Solheim said he feared the government's decision to end the ceasefire would lead to an escalation of violence in the Indian Ocean island where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are fighting for an independent state.

"It is a negative and sad development," he said, "particularly because it comes at the end of a year of many human rights abuses, disappearances and killings."

"It will most likely lead to a further escalation of violence," he said.

He added in the statement that the pullout from the truce followed "increasingly frequent and brutal acts of violence perpetrated by both parties."

Solheim said he was nonetheless optimistic that the Tigers and government would eventually resume peace talks.

"Outside Sri Lanka hardly anyone believes that this can be ended by anything other than a negotiated agreement," he said.

"They will have to come back to the negotiating table sooner or later. Unfortunately many people may die in the meantime."

The government's announcement that it would pull out of the ceasefire accord came hours after suspected Tamil Tigers bombed a military bus in central Colombo, killing four people and wounding 24.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

1 comment:

  1. While Norwigians leave the country we got to be vigilant for what type of gift they give to the LTTE, such as bullet proof vehicles.