The Solheim claim: ‘Mahinda planned to offer the North to Prabhakaran’

Solheim had even used somewhat undiplomatic language to explain his  allegation. ‘Rajapaksa wanted to do a backroom deal to make Prabhakaran  the leader there. He portrayed himself as the great saviour of the  Sinhalese, but was ready for any dirty deal for his own survival if it  helped his political fortunes’, Solheim had said, according to some newspaper reports.

Former Norwegian Development Minister and peace envoy to Sri Lanka, Erik Solheim dropped this bombshell days ago claiming that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had been willing to give self-rule to Tamils without calling for elections in the North.

Recalling his engagement in Sri Lanka at the launch of Mark Salter’s book “To End a Civil War – Norway’s Peace Engagement with Sri Lanka” at the University of London on October 28, he had said that Rajapaksa had told him that he was ready to hand over the North to Prabhakaran ‘as he did not want a long and protracted peace process, which would undermine his support in the South’.

This allegation came in the wake of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe accusing Rajapaksa in  Parliament that the latter had given money to the LTTE to prevent the northern Tamil people from voting at the 2005 presidential election and also implying a connection between this transaction and the assassination of former Foreign Minister Laxman Kadirgamar. Hence, the deafening silence maintained by the former president and his loyalists to the former Norwegian minister’s utterance is perplexing. Needless to say Mahinda Rajapaksa had committed a lot of blunders in his dealings with the minority communities in the country and also international forces. After the end of the war, he was not amenable to the Tamil leaders’ suggestion  to appoint a civilian governor to the Northern Province. He antagonised the Muslims by turning a blind eye to the actions of some religious extremists which ultimately paved the way for his downfall. He also provoked the international players by giving various promises and later going back on them.

However, it was extremely unlikely that Rajapaksa who was not prepared even to hold the Northern Provincial Council election after the war until he was pressurised by the UNHRC to hand over the administration of the North to Prabhakaran without an election. Even if Solheim was correct in quoting Rajapaksa, the claim was self-contradictory. It is simple logic that Rajapaksa would not have committed political suicide by offering the North to Prabhakaran, had he thought, as Solheim had claimed, that even ‘a long and protracted peace process would undermine his support in the South’.

The undiplomatic nature of some of the comments made by the former Norwegian minister,whether they were true or not, must be the result of his somewhat bitter last encounters with the former president. To mention a case in point, during an interview former “The Hindu” Editor N. Ram had with Mahinda Rajapaksa in July 2009 the latter’s secretary Lalith Weeratunge had intervened to say:  “It was about March 2006 when Mr. Solheim came to see H.E. after he became president and had also said, in the midst of other things: ‘Prabhakaran is a military genius. I have seen him in action etc., etc. to which the President had responded: ‘He is from the jungles of the North. I am from the jungles of the South. Let’s see who will win!’ It was very prophetic. Later the President met Minister Solheim in New York and reminded him of their conversation on the ‘military geniuses,’ of the jungles of the North and South, and who would win. The East had by that time, in 2007, been cleared and the President had said: ‘Now see what’s going to happen in the North,[ it will be ]the same.”

In fact it was not Rajapaksa but former President Chandrika Kumaratunga who had offered to hand over the North to Prabhakarana for ten years with the condition that the LTTE was decommissioned after the collapse of the peace talks between her government and the LTTE during her first tenure between 1994 and 1999. That offer came under stiff resistance from both the nationalists in the North as well as the South and faded away with the passage of time.
Had Solheim taken Rajapaksa’s purported plan to offer the North to Prabhakaran so seriously to place it before the world after so many years, it points to the fact that Norwegians did not have a clear picture of the leading players and the situation in Sri Lanka at the time when they attempted to bring  peace to the island. This is further evidenced by another remark Solheim had made at the London book launch. He had said; “the peace process in Sri Lanka broke down due to the bickering between the SLFP and the UNP’. It is true that the UNF government of Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga traded various accusations then against each other over the peace process, but the two parties also had an understanding on the process despite their public pronouncements. 

When the LTTE leaders and the UNF government delegation led by Minister G.L. Peiris agreed to explore a solution to the ethnic problem based on a federal structure at the Oslo round of peace talks, President Kumaratunga’s response was that it was she who had proposed a federal solution first through her draft constitution presented to Parliament in August 2000. No protests were held immediately or later by any of the Sinhalese nationalist groups against the Oslo federal agreement. Hence there was no bickering between the UNF and the SLFP that might have affected the peace process.

While referring to the allegation of the UNP-SLFP bickering, the Norwegian peace envoy contradicted himself at the event when he said; ‘In 2002, Ranil Wickremasinghe’s new government was ready to talk with the LTTE with the blessings of then President Chandrika Kumaratunga; but that opportunity was missed due to Prabhakaran’s fault’.

However, his assessment of the LTTE leader by all means seems to be correct. He had said; “There was lack of vision on the part of Prabhakaran. He had a violent response for every issue’ while pointing out ‘except for Anton Balasingham, nobody else within the LTTE had international exposure. The downfall of the LTTE was due to an isolated war lord sitting there basically taking all the decisions not based on proper information’.

This statement on the LTTE leadership was vindicated by another statement made last week by one time Prabhakaran’s second-in-command, former Deputy Minister Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman during an interview with the Indian Express when he had reportedly said; “Prabhakaran was a good man, but he had no knowledge of globalisation.” 

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