All in all, there are three things as plain as day about the peace process in Sri Lanka, which began in 2002 and ended with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2009:
- There was international participation, Norway and other aid donors (Japan, EU, USA) like in Burma today
- The sequencing is strikingly (chillingly, according to an NGO worker) similar to that of Burma, particularly Naypyitaw chief negotiator U Aung Min’s version: ceasefire, development and political dialogue
- It obviously didn’t work for the Tamil armed opposition fighting for self determination
According to Dr Kristian Stokke, University of Oslo, Norway, who visited Chiangmai last week, there were several factors why it didn’t, among which were:
- No joint roadmap for peace process: Without joint roadmap to peace, every step was politicized. Both sides tried to move the balance of power in their favor. Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) accused the Government of Sri Lanka of seeking to rebuild the unitary state. The latter in turn accused LTTE of pursuing a separate statehood.
- Moreover, there were no formal mechanisms for participation by other stakeholders. One result of the exclusion was the Sinhalese opposition becoming “spoilers” of the process.
- Focus on development, used as a trust-building forerunner for later peace negotiation, did not bring expected trust. Instead development became politicized. In addition, there was little discussion about what kind of development would strengthen the peace process. As a result, donors ended up supporting top-down delivery of humanitarian aid in conflict areas on the one hand the government’s free market development model at national level on the otherhand
- Exclusion of issues. Negotiations focused on implementation of ceasefire and humanitarian rehabilitation, but postponed core political issues (power-sharing, local democracy, minority rights)
The resultant lack of progress on core political issues made LTTE withdraw from the process and helped hardliners within both camps to gain control, who naturally concluded that the conflict had to be resolved by renewed war.
Dr Stokke also talked of the role of the international players, particularly that of Norway.
“Norway’s role depends on the conflict situation and the mandate given by the parties in conflict,” he said:
- “Peacemaker (facilitate peace negotiations) and peace builder (aid donor for peace building efforts) in Israel / Palestine
- Peacekeeper (monitor ceasefire agreements), peacemaker and peacebuilder in Sri Lanka
- Peacemaker only in Nepal, Aceh and now in Burma.”
Whatever the critics may say about Norway (economic interests in conflict areas) and Norwegian officials may say about themselves (altruism), he thinks the Land of Nobel Peace Prize really believes it is in the country’s own interest to help others. “But there is a gap between what they say and do,” commented Dr Stokke, who claims he is not promoting Norwegian peace engagement in Burma and not an employee of the Norwegian government. “In Sri Lanka, they were de-facto supporting the government. In Burma, they are not even pretending.”
He cited two reasons why the West is bestowing favors on the present regime. “One is after 9/11 (11 September 2001 terrorist attack on World Trade Center), the West, especially the United States, is emphasizing more and more on state sovereignty, security and (safeguards against) state failure. And two is of course China.”
That may be particularly true for the United States but Norway has its own vision of peace: “to end war, secure state sovereignty, and build some form of minimal democracy, development and an open, free market.”
At the same time, the Norwegian government also appears to be aware of the unhappy feelings among the activists and CBOs along the border, especially after “stiff resistance” at a press conference held by Deputy Foreign Minister Torgier Larsen in Chiangmai at the end of May.
The offshoot of it is that the Norwegian embassy in Bangkok has set up a webpage on its current peacebuilding activities in Burma “to show that we are open, transparent and have nothing to hide,” according to an embassy official.