May 13, Colombo: Norway has helped dozens of suspected Tamil Tiger cadres to flee Sri Lanka and given them asylum in Norway, a Norwegian newspaper reported today.
The Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten says the staff at the Norwegian Embassy in Sri Lankan capital Colombo so far has helped around 12 people come to Norway, with help from the Norwegian authorities and about twice as many standing in line to get similar help.
Afttenposten says that in some cases, the employees at the Norwegian Embassy personally have bought tickets, taken people to the airport, and smuggled then them out of the country “right under the nose of the Sri Lankan authorities.”
The Embassy has issued visas on short notice both for emigrants and those who had already escaped from Sri Lanka, Aftenposten alleges.
Erik Solheim, Norway’s International Development Minister and one-time peace broker between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tiger terrorist group LTTE, has defended the practice.
“Norway has a long tradition of helping people who are in danger. Sometimes we go a little longer. In this case we have had a role as facilitators in the peace process, and we therefore believe that we have a humanitarian obligation to help out,” Solheim was quoted as saying.
Solheim has accused Sri Lanka of persecuting the people who have helped Norway saying that they are in in real danger.
“Sri Lanka is clearly a place where people are exposed to various forms of persecution. We know one thing, that probably took liquidations during the last phase of the civil war,” he has told Aftenposten.
A doctor who was in the war zone during the last phase of the war has said that he fled to Bangkok by bribing the Sri Lankan authorities and with the help of Norwegian embassy in Bangkok he has come to Norway.
The doctor has alleged that the Sri Lankan government used cluster bombs and shelled civilian locations.
Aftenposten says Norwegian authorities have taken into consideration that the doctor could be an important witness to alleged war crimes when they decided to help him.
Norwegian Opposition politicians calling their government’s move “quite unusual” and bordering on activism, have feared that it will damage international relations between the two countries.
Ine Marie Eriksen Sreide, head of Parliament’s Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee, has expressed surprise and said that she was not aware of the practice.
“It is quite unusual to do such a thing. This means a bigger risk when it comes to relations with Sri Lanka. It’s almost an activist action of Norway,” she has said.
Head of research at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), Iver B. Neumann, believes the case is problematic.
“This is a violation of sovereignty dimensions. It is a violation of the basic principle of international politics. It also undermines Norwegian interests, because a small country like Norway is served by the things happening across the table, not in the way it’s been done here,” Neumann was quoted by the Aftenposten.
Afttenposten says the Sri Lankan Embassy in Oslo has not responded yet to an inquiry by the newspaper.
During the conflict Sri Lanka has accused Norway of using its aids outlets to arm the terrorist group LTTE and training LTTE cadres in underwater warfare.