Colombo, Sri Lanka – A Norwegian peacebroker, accused by Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa of helping to fund the country’s Tamil rebels, has acknowledged that the group had been induced to engage in the peace process but said payments were made with the Sri Lankan government’s knowledge.
Erik Solheim, a Norwegian diplomat who for nearly a decade headed international efforts to broker a peace deal, was accused by Rajapaksa on Sunday of giving money to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who waged a 37-year civil war for a separate homeland before being defeated in 2009.
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“The Norwegian government should investigate his conduct,” Rajapaksa said, according to the AFP news agency.
“Solheim told me that our forces will never be able to defeat the LTTE. He said [LTTE leader Velupillai] Prabhakaran is a very, very clear man. A military genius.
“Today Solheim is trying to jump up and give evidence against us. We have evidence of him giving money to the LTTE. We are ready to share that evidence,” he said.
The comments came in an address by Rajapaksa in front of supporters in the countdown to an election expected in January, local media reported.
Solheim, Norway’s former environment and international development minister, initially tweeted that Rajapaksa was “telling lies”. In a tweet on Sunday, he said: “President Rajapaksa tells lies about me as election approaches. I will set the truth straight tomorrow.”
On Monday, he said that while the Tigers had indeed been given “economic resources,” all payments had been conducted with the Colombo government’s full knowledge.
“Norway made economic resources available to the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) peace secretariat in order to assist them in engaging more fully with the ongoing peace process,” Solheim said in a statement .
|Rajapaksa said: “The Norwegian government should investigate his [Solheim’s] conduct” [Reuters]
“This, moreover, was done with the full knowledge of the government of Sri Lanka under different leaders, including during the period when Mahinda Rajapaksa was prime minister.
While Solheim did not go into detail on how the money passed to the Tigers was spent, he did say that the rebels acquired a radio transmitter with the government’s knowledge.
Solheim said Rajapaksa – who comes from the island’s majority Sinhalese community – had expressed his gratitude “both to Norway and myself” after inviting them to continue peace efforts soon after he won the presidential election in 2005.
“Thereafter, Rajapaksa made a number of political requests that he asked me to convey on his behalf to LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran,” Solheim said.
“All these messages were duly communicated on to the LTTE leadership, and the killings ceased for a period.”
The envoy did not give the nature of the political requests, but added that details would be revealed in a book next year.
While Solheim did manage to broker a truce between the government and rebels in April 2006, it later unravelled.
The conflict was finally ended by an onslaught on the rebels’ last remaining stronghold, during which Prabhakaran was killed in May, 2009.
led the country to victory over the LTTE, I cannot believe that he would allow a foreign power to assist them”]
Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, the executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, which played an integral part on the ground in monitoring the ceasefire between the government forces and the LTTE, also said that the government was aware of the assistance given to the rebels.
“If Mahinda Rajapaksa has evidence to prove the Norwegians funded the LTTE without the government’s knowledge, then they must, instead of talking about it, present this evidence to the public,” he told Al Jazeera.
Saravanamuttu’s comments follow remarks made by Minister of Labour and Labour Relations, Gamini Lokuge, who told local media that “the president would not make such allegations if he did not have written evidence to support his claims”.
The news that Rajapaksa may have known about Norway’s support of the LTTE has taken many in Sri Lanka by surprise.
“We all knew that Norway was sympathetic to the LTTE, but Mahinda Rajapaksa was a leader who did not bow down to international pressure,” Chatura Peiris, a local shop owner, said.
“If the accusation that he was aware of the dealings between the two and did nothing is true then he will certainly lose much support from the people.”
Dinesh Gurusinghe, a former major in the army, told Al Jazeera he refused to believe the accusations levelled against Rajapaksa.
“He [Rajapaksa] led the country to victory over the LTTE, I cannot believe that he would allow a foreign power to assist them. This is foreign propaganda that is being used to tarnish the image of the president,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Dinouk Colombage contributed to this report. Follow him on Twitter: @dinoukc