Sun, Nov 20, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Norway offers to stay as peace broker


Norway said it is willing to stay on as a peace broker in Sri Lanka if asked by the hawkish newly elected president and the Tamil Tiger rebels.

President Mahinda Rajapakse campaigned on a promise to revisit the uneasy truce brokered by Norway in 2002 that halted two bloody decades of civil war.

Rajapakse's election allies, the powerful Marxists, have often accused the Norwegians of being biased in favor of the rebels.

"Norway remains willing to facilitate the peace process in Sri Lanka for as long as the two parties request such assistance, and for as long as it is possible for Norway to play a constructive role," Norwegian Minister of International Development Erik Solheim, who helped broker the truce, said in a statement from the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo that was received yesterday.

Norway was asked by former president Chandrika Kumaratunga in 2000 to act as a peace broker in negotiations between the government and the rebels.

Rajapakse has vowed to revive the stalled peace talks by meeting with the secretive leader of the Tigers, whose boycott of the elections helped Rajapakse eke out a tight victory.

But throughout the campaign, Rajapakse took a hard line against the rebels, saying that he wants to first review the ceasefire and then work for an "honorable peace," meaning that the small tropical island of 19 million people should not be divided along ethnic lines -- a key rebel demand.

The Tigers want a homeland for the 3.2 million ethnic Tamil minority in the northeast, saying they can only prosper away from domination by the 14 million Sinhalese majority.

No immediate comment was available from either the rebels or Rajapakse.

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