NATO role in failed Norwegian Peace bid & costly propaganda projects
Posted on April 3rd, 2016

Shamindra Ferdinando Courtesy The Island

ProfJonatha Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) and School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, launched Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997-2009 in Nov. 2011. The team comprised Gunnar Sorbo, Prof. Jonathan Goodhand, Bart Klem, Ada Elisabeth Nissen, Hilde Selbervik. The Norad-funded report asserted that India strongly backed Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE though New Delhi worked closely with Norway and Peace Co-Chairs namely US, EU, Japan and Norway. The report also highlighted crucial US and Indian intelligence making a significant contribution to the war effort, as well as China and India throwing their weight behind Sri Lanka, simultaneously. The report revealed wrong assessments made by Norway in respect of crucial matters, such as the capabilities of the Sri Lankan military. Unfortunately, the previous government didn’t even bother to peruse the best foreign evaluation of the 2001-2009 period.

Successive Norwegian governments spent lavishly in support of their peace efforts in various countries, including Sri Lanka.

The Norwegians believed decision making process, as well as the public opinion in any conflict-affected country, could be influenced through well-funded propaganda projects.

Sri Lanka experienced a series of such projects during the conflict, particularly in the wake of the Feb. 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA).

The failure of costly propaganda projects, also, immensely contributed to the collapse of the Norwegian project in Sri Lanka. An ambitious Norwegian peace initiative suffered an irreparable setback due to their inaccurate assessment of the ground situation. Norway operated on the premise that the Sri Lankan government lacked the wherewithal to defeat the LTTE militarily (Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009) page 63.

Those who had been receiving Norwegian funding, in addition large sums of money made available by various other countries, and international NGOs, turned a blind eye to what was happening on the ground. They painted a rosy picture in spite of the LTTE causing mayhem.

The then UNP-led United National Front (UNF) suppressed the media in a bid to prevent the reportage of the actual ground situation. The government directed Army Headquarters not to issue daily situation reports. Subsequently, the government explored the possibility of issuing situation reports through the Norway-funded Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP). The project was meant to cover up LTTE activities inimical to the peace initiative (Incidents continue in east but no situation report-The Island of April 5, 2002). The LTTE prohibited the distribution of Thinamurasu, a newspaper published by the rival Eelam People’s Democratic Party as it flexed its muscles (LTTE bans EPDP’s Thinamurasu-The Island of April 5, 2002). The Norwegians failed to take tangible measures to discourage the LTTE from causing trouble. Then, much to the dismay of the military the government also closed down Wanni Sevaya, a special Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) managed radio station situated in Vavuniya that catered to the military (Wanni Sevaya closed down-The Island of April 7, 2002). The government ignored requests made by the military to restore the special SLBC service (Military wants Wanni Sevaya restored-The Island of April 19, 2002).

On the one hand Norwegian-funded NGOs engaged in a propaganda blitz in support of the CFA and on the other hand the government suppressed reportage of incidents which it considered could undermined the peace process.

The degree of Norwegian funding came to light over two years after the conclusion of the conflict, in May 2009. Unfortunately, successive governments, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s war-winning administration, lacked the foresight to closely examine foreign-funded projects.

Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009) discussed the contentious issue of Oslo funding in support of various peace initiatives. Norway released its evaluation in September 2011. It would be pertinent to study the funding factor in the wake of the recent launch of Mark Salter’s To end a civil war: Norway’s peace engagement in Sri Lanka in Colombo. Salter’s response (http://www.island.lk/index.php? page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=142225) to The Island report ‘Failed Norwegian peace bid in SL: Different perspectives, glaring omissions’ (http://www.island.lk/index.php? page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=141647) in March 9 edition on the book launch at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICEC) was carried in the March 19 edition of The Island.

When Norway called for tenders from prospective persons/organizations to examine her wartime role in Sri Lanka, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry revealed that of about NOK 2.5 bn development aid made available during the 1997-2009 period, NOK 100mn had been allocated for projects in support of the peace process. The recipients of Norwegian funding included the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), comprising five Nordic countries, as well as Peace Secretariats of the government, as well as the LTTE.

Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009) dealt with the issue of funding in a chapter titled Norwegian Peace Diplomacy. Let me reproduce the relevant section verbatim: “The policy of engagement includes development policy, humanitarian aid, peace and reconciliation efforts and international work to promote human rights and democracy. This is significant, not only because of the steady increasing share of Norwegian aid, provided in politically challenging contexts, but also because humanitarian and other aid funds have been used in a targeted and flexible fashion, often quite lavishly, to support peace diplomacy.”

Having squandered Norwegian taxpayers’ money here, Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009) acknowledged the futility of the exercise. “During the peace process aid was simultaneously used by donors as a vehicle to promote peace and economic liberalization, in the belief that the two were mutually reinforcing. However, in practice, the pursuit of such policies in tandem proved inimical to peace. Aid had very limited leverage and it proved impossible to short circuit complex political processes through the provision of economic incentives,”(page 137)

The authors of Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009) discussed pro-peace projects undertaken by various members of the civil society on behalf of Norway and several other countries (page 89). The National Peace Council (NPC), the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) and the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) had been key players in the Oslo-led projects. The report credited Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, UK, Switzerland and the US for setting up what the report called dedicated programmes and activities to shore up the Norwegian effort. The Berghof Foundation and the Foundation for Co-Existence played pivotal roles in the overall campaign. They had been tasked with having dialogue with relevant parties, peace advocacy as well as conflict early warning systems. The report revealed the role played by one-time darling of the Norwegians, Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe, in a failed attempt to secure the support of the Sinhalese. Let me reproduce the relevant section verbatim: “The funding for the Foundation for Co-Existence and the National Anti-War Front, both led by Kumar Rupesinghe, constituted a deliberate attempt by Norway to support an individual and wider organization that could engage with Sinhala politics and society.” The report also dealt with projects undertaken by One-Text initiative, the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA), Facilitating Local Initiatives for Conflict Transformation (FLICT), UNDP and USAID. However, such projects had failed to achieve desired results in spite of foreign donors lavishly spending millions of USD here.

The Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009) identified Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe as the largest recipient of Norwegian finding during 2001-2004 period (page 113). Colombo-based NGO community had received a staggering NOK 210 mn (approximately USD 28mn) during this period. However, the report named Kumar Rupesinghe as the largest recipient of Norwegian funding during the 2004-2008 period to the tune of NOK 35 mn (USD 6 mn).

Rupesinghe earned the wrath of Norway for switching his allegiance to the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the onset of eelam war IV after having received Norwegian funds. Although, the report identified all major NGOs benefited by Norwegian grants, the report conveniently refrained from naming individuals. Among those named recipients are Milinda Moragoda Institute, Sarvodaya, Sewalanka, the Sareeram Sri Lanka National Foundation, Hambantota District Chamber of Commerce CPA, the Forum of Federations and the People’s Peace Front. Milinda Moragoda Institute received Norwegian funding for de-mining operations to facilitate resettlement of the displaced. Moragoda’s initiative brought relief to war-weary communities. Norway should be commended for funding mine clearing operations carried out by Indian firms, Horizon and Sarvatra.

Norway also provided funds to the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) affiliated to the LTTE. The TRO funding was in addition to funds received by the LTTE Peace Secretariat. The Norwegian peace team obviously believed that the LTTE’s support could be secured by providing large cash grants. Norway had no way of examining how various recipients spent monies received. Other donors, too, experienced the same problem.

Over six years, after the conclusion of the war, Sri Lanka is still unaware of the total amount of funds received by various NGOs during the war. Parliament was recently informed of the unavailability of records pertaining to funds received by various NGOs. Minister of National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages, Mano Ganesan, recently revealed that the National Secretariat for NGOs hadn’t received the required information for 2000-2010 period.

The Minister was responding to a query raised by UPFA Matara District MP Dallas Alahapperuma.

The former Minister sought details as regards funds received by NGOs since 2000.

Minister Ganeshan said: “Records pertaining to funds received by NGOs since 2000 haven’t been submitted. Only the records from the year 2011 to 2013 are available.”

The NGOs received Rs. 13.9 bn (Rs 13,926,619,942) in 2011, Rs. 11. 4 bn (Rs.11,488,308,761) in 2012 and Rs. 10.8 bn (Rs.10,840,293,929) in 2013.

The Minister said that there were 1,065 NGOs and 381 International Non Governmental Organizations (INGOs) registered in the Sri Lanka as of Jan. 1, 2015.

The role played by Norway in installing a FM radio station, in LTTE-held Kilinochchi, in late 2002, or early 2003, highlighted Oslo bending backwards to appease LTTE terrorists. Bradman Weerakoon revealed in an article titled Initiating and Sustaining the Peace Process: Origins and Challenges Norwegians with the knowledge of the then government using diplomatic privilege to import radio equipment, including FM transmitter, back-up transmitter and FM antenna, on behalf of the LTTE. Having imported the equipment, the Norwegians had handed them over to the SCOPP for onward transfer to the LTTE. Subsequent to the transfer of equipment, the SCOPP became liable to the payment of duty to the tune of Rs 3 mn. The SCOPP utilized funds made available by Norway to pay the duty. Weerakoon placed the annual Norwegian grant received by SCOPP at Rs 12 mn. Interestingly, Weerakoon’s essay was included in Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka: Efforts, Failures and Lessons (Volume II) edited by Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe. Dr. Rupesinghe’s effort had been funded by the Norwegian government, Foreign Ministry and the Berghof Foundation. The NGO guru launched the book in February 2006 amidst rapidly deteriorating situation. At the height of eelam war, Oslo suspended financial support to Dr Kumar Rupesinghe over serious differences with him. An irate Rupesinghe made an abortive bid to move the District Court of Colombo against Norway with the support of the then President Rajapaksa though he lacked the External Affairs Ministry support.

Plaintiff Dr. Rupesinghe accused Norway of violating a tripartite agreement involving his Foundation for Co-Existence, Norway and the UK. Rupesinghe alleged Norway owed him funds to the of millions of rupees.

The then Norwegian Ambassador Tore Hattrem had signed the agreement on behalf of Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tom Owen–Edmunds, Head of Political and Development Section of the British High Commission, on behalf of British High Commission in Colombo and Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe, on behalf of the Foundation for Co-Existence.

Under the agreement, the Foundation for Co-Existence was to implement projects in support of the peace process with funds received from Norway and the UK. The agreement was finalized at the height of the war on the Vanni front. There hasn’t been any previous case similar to the legal dispute involving a local NGO and its foreign partners.

Interestingly, Norway was to fund the project to the tune of 75 percent with the remaining funding from the UK.

Having made some payments, in accordance with the agreement, Norway suspended further payments, in early, May 2009, just weeks ahead of the conclusion of the conflict. However, the UK met its full commitment in keeping with the agreement.

Although various interested parties portrayed Norway as a lightweight facilitator spearheading the peace process in Sri Lanka, it had the backing of the world’s solitary superpower, the US, as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009) confirmed the US readiness to deploy landing vessels to evacuate LTTE cadres, trapped on the Vanni east front, to Trincomalee. The US naval deployment was in support of the Norwegian effort to work out a four-point plan to arrange an organized LTTE surrender. (page 66). The report also revealed Norwegian envoy Hanssen-Bauer urging EU to apply pressure on Sri Lanka in October, 2008 against the backdrop of some EU member states calling for suspension of preferential trade agreement with Sri Lanka (GSP plus) (page 66). Tremendous pressure was brought on Sri Lanka as the army surrounded Kilinochchi. However, Western powers couldn’t derail the offensive until the LTTE was brought to heel in May 2009. Finally, the EU withdrew suspended GSP plus in February 2010. The lightweight facilitator obviously had the wherewithal to take punitive action. Furious Western powers, during 2009, made an abortive attempt to block the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from rescuing the Rajapaksa administration with USD 2.6 stand-by-arrangement. Western powers sought to plunge Sri Lanka to financial turmoil in the post-war period.

The much touted assertion that NATO member Norway is a lightweight facilitator does not hold water.

Recently, an expert on Norwegian initiative here sought an explanation when the writer referred to the Norwegians involving NATO in their project here. Obviously, the expert hadn’t perused Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009). According to the report, as the five-nation Nordic Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) had received intelligence from NATO, it didn’t require intelligence provided by India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) (page 100). It would be pertinent to examine the level of NATO support to the Norwegian-led mission. Obviously both the Sri Lankan military as well as the LTTE had been under NATO scrutiny. The report quoted the Head of the SLMM as having said that the mission could never fully trust Indian intelligence as they reached the Nordic mission only through informal channels. The HOM said: “They were not giving it to us to be nice. We would always ask ourselves: why do they want us to know this? Intelligence provided by NATO only confirmed what they already knew.”

NATO intelligence would have had a significant impact on the decision making process. Norway’s participation in the US led bombing of Libya, several years ago, highlighted her military capability amidst peace efforts in various parts of the world.

To be continued on March 30

 

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