Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission

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Two civilian monitors and their car in Mullaitivu, Sea Tigers stronghold in northeastern Sri Lanka

The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) was established on 22 February 2002 under the terms of a ceasefire agreement signed by the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, as a body that would monitor the ceasefire and enquire into reported violations of the ceasefire agreement. Its members were drawn primarily from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland. Following the abrogating of the ceasefire agreement in January 2008, the SLMM announced on 3 January 2008 that it would finally terminate its remaining operational activities in Sri Lanka with effect from 16 January 2008.[1]

Organization[edit]

SLMM has its headquarters in Colombo, and has six District Offices (DO)in the North and East: Mannar, Jaffna, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Ampara and Vavuniya, as well as a Liaison Office in Kilinochchi. There are also two naval monitoring teams, one in Jaffna and one in Trincomalee. In addition, SLMM has established Points of Contact (PoC) within the district offices. The PoCs expand the possibility to establish contact with the local population and for SLMM to be more accessible.

The SLMM DO’s operates mobile units and performs extensive patrolling in SLMM Area of Responsibility (AOR). Moreover the SLMM inquires into both parties' complaints regarding the cease fire. The six SLMM DOs define AOR geographically, while the Area of Operation (AOO) includes all of Sri Lanka. The SLMM was until 30 August 2006 staffed with about 60 monitors, and was headed by the Swedish Major General Ulf Henricsson.

From May 2006 onwards, the SLMM's ability to exercise its mandate was hampered by worsening hostilities. Following an attack by the LTTE on a Sri Lankan naval convoy on 11 May 2006, the SLMM on 14 May announced a "temporary suspension" of naval monitoring in the northern and eastern waters of Sri Lanka.[2] On 8 June 2006, the LTTE objected to the formal engagement of citizens of European Union states in the SLMM, arguing that it was questionable whether citizens of countries which had banned the LTTE would be sufficiently impartial to be able to adjudicate critical matters on the ground. As a result, the Swedish, Finnish and Danish members of the SLMM ceased to work with the mission with effect from 1 September 2006, drastically depleting its strength.[3] From 1 September 2006, the SLMM was headed by the Norwegian Major General Lars Johan Sølvberg and had a total of 20 monitors from Iceland and Norway, the two of the five original members of SLMM that are not a part of the EU.

Criticism[edit]

The organisation has been criticised by persons from various sides of the conflict for not being impartial and for appeasing the parties. Locally, SLMM is criticized for not taking action to end cease fire violations by the LTTE. The SLMM's reaction on this fact (that the majority of violations is done by the LTTE) is that the parties have the responsibility for the CFA (Cease Fire Agreement). The SLMM's role is documenting CFA violations, assisting the parties in local mediation and supplying Norway and the co-chairs of the peace process with facts.

The leader of SLMM, known as "Head of Mission - HoM" is appointed by the Norwegian government. The Norwegian facilitators are by some accused of being biased towards the LTTE. The Norwegians have support by the present Sri Lankan president and government, opposition party (UNP) and the co-chairs (USA, EU and Japan).

PA, the ruling party, was initially supportive of Norway's role. However, the ruling party raised many questions regarding credibility of Norway as an 'independent facilitator'. The Sri Lankan president once strongly complained to the Norwegian Prime Minister of Colombo's Norwegian Ambassador Jon Westborg. Former foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was critical of the role played by Norway, and demanded them to leave if Norway was unable to bring democracy to LTTE controlled areas. Anura Bandaranaike, a minister of the ruling party said Norway's role is highly questionable.[citation needed]

The popular view among Sri Lankans is that 'Norwegians direct SLMM'. Norwegian Government (through the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo) sent a consignment of radio equipment to the LTTE in 2002, and majority of anti-LTTE Sri Lankans saw this as Norway siding with the LTTE. The shipment was however cleared with the government of Sri Lanka. Norwegian Ambassador John Westborg was accused to have committed breaches of the 'customs ordinance' of Sri Lanka and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations by seeking clearance for goods for the embassy, which were actually meant for a third party (LTTE).[4]

University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), Sri Lanka, accuses Norway's 'appeasing the LTTE' strategy as being responsible for the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.[5] The Norwegian deputy foreign ministers comment on the calls for more pressure on the LTTE was that the cease fire agreement and the peace process is the parties responsibility. Though both sides want Norwegian and SLMM support in handling the other, the Norwegian view is that they need to work it out themselves.

SLMM has ruled that LTTE has violated the CFA 3006 times, as opposed to 133 times by the Government, as of 30 June 2005.[6] Despite the high number of CFA violations committed by the LTTE, the SLMM routinely issue statements urging "both parties" (meaning the LTTE and the Government) to observe the CFA.

These incidents are viewed by some in Sri Lanka as Norwegians conniving with the LTTE. Others however see the accusations as motivated by political reasons. However, a survey conducted in 2003 found only 27% of Sri Lankans feel the SLMM monitors are impartial, putting serious doubts on the SLMM's role.[citation needed]

However the general opinion of the international community seems to be that the SLMM is of vital importance for keeping the fragile cease fire.[citation needed] As a monitoring mission, the SLMM is not involved in the Norwegian government's facilitation of the peace talks.[citation needed]

After a Chinese ship was attacked off the northern Sri Lankan coast, on 20 March 2003 it was widely believed to have been carried out by the LTTE.[7] Based on a recorded telephone conversation between the LTTE and General Trond Furuhovde, a Norwegian and then Head of SLMM, SLMM is accused of having indirectly suggested to the LTTE to put the blame on a "third party with stolen uniforms".[8] No such "third parties" have previously carried out such attacks in Sri Lankan seas. SLMM later issued a statement blaming a "third party" without naming who that third party was.[9]

On another occasion, the Sri Lankan navy was pursuing a suspected LTTE arms vessel, and an SLMM officer on board the Navy boat informed the SLMM HQ about the raid via a satellite phone. The SLMM HQ checked with the LTTE, which made the LTTE aware that the navy was pursuing the arms ship. The LTTE arms vessel escaped eventually. The Opposition party lodged the strongest protest and demanded government to declare the SLMM monitor in question as "Persona non grata"[10] accusing 'SLMM leaking information about navy's pursuing to the LTTE'

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