Tamil Tiger rebels extends deadline for EU monitors to quit ahead of crucial meeting
Shimali Senanayake in Colombo,
June 25th, 2006.
Caving into diplomatic pressure from within and outside Sri Lanka, the
Tamil Tiger rebels extended a deadline from four to nine weeks for
truce monitors from EU countries to quit operations in the island.
Peace-broker Norway has called for a crucial meeting with
representatives of countries representing the Sri Lanka Monitoring
Mission on Thursday, in Oslo. The talks are to decide on the future of
According to a top official involved in the Norway-brokered process,
the options for the SLMM include to down-size the mission with offices
only in Colombo and Kilinochchi, increase the number of monitors from
Iceland and Norway or to even suspend the mission all together.
"Halting the mission is a last resort, but it is an option," said
Thorfinnur Omarsson, SLMM spokesman.
He said this was up to Norway to decide.
The SLMM began weighing their limited options ahead of the June 29,
The main purpose is to discuss the Tigers' four-week deadline for 37
monitors from Sweden, Denmark and Finland to quit. However, on
Saturday, the rebels' informed Norway that they had extended the
timeline until September 1.
Omarsson confirmed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE's
"Obviously, nine weeks are better than four weeks. It gives us some
breathing space, but we need six months to get monitors to replace EU
nationals," he said. " At this point, we still do not know if we can
reorganize the SLMM and recruit a complete mission by Sept. 1."
The government, however, is strongly opposed to the LTTE's demand. The
government has told Norwegian peace-brokers it is not "wedded," to the
composition of the SLMM.
Senior government officials said, Colombo was even willing to amend
the cease-fire or include an addendum to ensure the future functioning
of the truce mission with non-Nordic members.
"If the monitors from the EU countries say they cannot function here
because the LTTE has failed to assure their security, we will
understand," a top government official said. "But not because of the
The Tigers formally said on Wednesday, the neutrality of the Swedes,
Danes and Finns had been marred, as the countries to which those
monitors come from belong to the European Union, which included the
LTTE in its list of terror groups last month.
This is despite the Tigers being repeatedly told that these monitors
do not represent their individual countries but an independent
The government has accused the LTTE of laying down a "hostile
deadline," and assured the monitoring mission of support to carry out
If the 37 monitors exit, the SLMM will be left with just 16 from
Norway and four from Iceland.
Norwegian peace-brokers have said Tigers decision was regrettable.
"The LTTE's demand that SLMM monitors from EU countries be replaced is
deeply regrettable and will weaken the SLMM in a critical period,"
Norway's Minister of International Development Erik Solheim said in a
The government has stressed that any changes to the composition of the
SLMM cannot be an unilateral decision between Norway and the LTTE, and
the Sri Lanka has to be an integral part of the decision-making
Norway has invited the five countries from which monitors have been
extracted to make up the SLMM to a meeting on Thursday, in Oslo, to
discuss the safety, future and function of the SLMM, following the
But the government had made very clear that any decisions emanating
from the meeting will have to be wetted subsequently by Colombo.
Article 3.5 of the Cease-fire Agreement clearly states that the SLMM
will consist of 'Nordic' monitors. The government also signed a
separate Status of Mission Agreement or SOMA, with Norway on March 18,
2002 spelling out the status of the monitors. Any change in the
composition to bring in non-Nordic monitors calls for an amendment to
both these agreements.
"These are matters that require negotiations by all parties concerned
and cannot be addressed unilaterally to respond to the unreasonable
sensitivities and the intransigent attitude of the LTTE," the
statement from the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
Norway had asked for six months to facilitate the transition and find
substitutes for the EU monitors but the LTTE initially insisted four
weeks will have to do.
If the Tigers' demand will be acceded to or a compromise kicked it
will be clear only after Thursday's meeting.
According to the LTTE's demand, current Head of Mission Ulf Henricsson
and his deputy Tommy Lakenmyr will have to quit their posts in less
than a month because there are Swedish. So will Swedish chief of
operations and also the head of logistics.
To re-appoint heads for the mission would take a minimum of two
months. This would include to call in applications, short list and
And as one European diplomat put it, "It's like poya in Europe during
the months of July and August," with most out on summer vacations.
The LTTE threats against the security of the monitors will be a prime
focus at Thursday's meeting, officials involved in the process said on
condition of anonymity. It is highly unlikely the Europeans will be
willing to function in the North and East without adequate guarantees
to the safety.
The SLMM currently operates six district offices placed in Jaffna,
Mannar, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara. It maintains a
liaison office in Kilinochchi and Naval monitoring in Jaffna and
Trincomalee which is now at a standstill.
Head of all the six districts as well as naval monitors are either
Swedes or Finns.
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Published: Sun Jun 25 11:40:23 EDT 2006