An evaluation report by Norway of its peace efforts in Sri Lanka between 1997 and 2009 has named presidential advisor and Minister Basil Rajapaksa as the person through whom the LTTE leadership tried to negotiate a last-minute surrender deal before the entire hierarchy of the group was killed in May, 2009.
“In the night between May 17 and 18, Nadesan (head of the LTTE Political Wing) and Pulidevan (head of the LTTE Peace Secretariat) contacted the Norwegians as well as the UK and US embassies, the ICRC, and Chandra Nehru (a Tamil politician in Colombo) indicating their last-minute willingness to surrender. Following hasty negotiations with presidential advisor and Minister Basil Rajapaksa, they were told to walk across the frontline with a white flag. The last phone conversation was held shortly before their departure. Hours later they were reported shot. Government troops moved into the last LTTE stronghold and killed LTTE chief Prabhakaran and the remaining LTTE leaders including Soosai (Sea Tigers) and Pottu Amman (intelligence),” the report says.
The 208-page report was released on Friday at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs at a ceremony attended by Norway’s Environment and International Development Minister Erik Solheim who played a major role in the peace process, former US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and former Minister Milinda Moragoda.
The report discloses hitherto unknown details on the backroom negotiations that took place as the noose tightened around the LTTE during the last days of the war.
The report says that in January 2009, Government forces captured Kilinochchi and in view of the rapid offensive, the Norwegians had concluded in August 2008 that the Army would probably capture the Vanni sometime in 2009, but it could not rule out that this was a tactical LTTE retreat. The Norwegian team had concluded that it was very likely that the LTTE would disappear as a dominant power in any geographic area during 2009 and that the government would start a rehabilitation process in the north like the one in the east. They expect, however, that the insurgents would flee to the jungle and continue guerrilla-style warfare and would not fully disappear as long as Prabhakaran was alive.The Norwegains said it became clear that the endgame had started when the army captured
Kilinochchi — the symbolic rebel headquarters in the Vanni – on January 2, 2009. “The remaining LTTE territory around Puthukuduyiripu and Mullaitivu shrinks quickly. The LTTE’s human shield of hundreds of thousands of civilians who are not allowed to escape, form a crucial part of the insurgent’s defence. The civilian presence slows down the army offensive, but the government is determined not to let casualties change the course of events.”
The report adds that while Norway and the US made several diplomatic attempts to avoid the bloodshed of a final onslaught and while the co-chairs agreed to work towards some form of LTTE surrender, Japan and the EU were not engaged directly in subsequent negotiations. India was not involved in these efforts either, but made some parallel pleas for limiting civilian casualties. The Indian government also made it very clear that it supported a continuation of the offensive and the defeat of the LTTE.
The report says that in close dialogue with the US, Norway continued its efforts to resolve the humanitarian crisis through some form of surrender. The ideas circulated consisted of four main components:
1) a government guaranteed amnesty for LTTE cadres other than the top leadership;
2) the LTTE handing in their weapons to the UN;
3) LTTE cadres surrendering to the UN or the ICRC; and
4) the co-chairs promising involvement to improve the situation for civilians and support a political solution to the conflict.The US had been prepared to make landing vessels available for transport to Trincomalee.
Preparations were made for an international presence in the war zone – by the UN Resident Representative or in another way – and made sure both India and the US stood witness to the implementation of whatever arrangement emerged.
The Norwegian team received signals that the Sri Lankan government might accept LTTE surrender at this point, though they were resistant to the idea of a UN envoy and the Norwegians were not sure the military could be convinced either. The Norwegian team hoped the ‘face saving measures’ would make it easier for the LTTE to accept, the report adds.
Interviews and archives suggested the plan for LTTE leaders was to transfer them to Colombo and provide international guarantees for their well-being, but according to testimony from former LTTE operator ‘KP’ (with whom the Norwegians had a meeting in Malaysia on February 26), the LTTE expected the evacuation of 25 to 50 LTTE leaders and their families to a foreign country to be a possibility. Prabhakaran, however, rejected the proposal out of hand as ‘unacceptable’. The LTTE leadership was living in a ‘dream world’, the diplomats involved concluded. The LTTE seemed to believe in ‘miracles’; ‘Prabhakaran had survived on numerous previous occasions by a miracle and perhaps believed he would do it again,’ according to one of the Norwegians.
As the net around the insurgents closed, LTTE surrender became a less and less attractive option for Colombo. It is also doubtful India had any interest in the LTTE surviving the end of the war. Non-Western countries told the Sri Lankan government to ignore Western pressure and ‘get it over with,’ according to the testimony of a Sri Lankan diplomat.
Another former government official added, the government had ‘hardly any reason to let the LTTE surrender or escape’, ‘to think twice before grabbing the cobra by its head, and maybe have trouble again for another twenty years.’ It is in this period that the Sri Lankan government terminated Norway’s facilitator role in Sri Lanka, the report adds.