3.1 The safety net: Oslo Donor Conference
Following first and the second sessions of direct discussions, where the two parties arrived at important political decisions such as the forming of Joint Sub-Committees (which we have explained below), it was announced that there was going to be another conference focused on the economic aspect of the peace process. Unlike the political level, where only the two parties and the mediators were present, the economic level opened up the floor to nearly 100 delegates coming from 19 donor nations. US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as well as the British Secretary of state for international development Claire Short were notable participants of the meeting. There were high hopes that the success of the first such Donor Conference, held in Oslo, November 2002 would have positive impact on the political level. The press release issued by the Norwegian government prior to the meeting contained these sentiments: “The aim of the conference is to mobilize political and economic support for the efforts to promote a lasting peace on the island. The war-affected areas need enormous amounts of humanitarian assistance. In order to maintain popular support for the peace process, rapid and visible measures should be implemented that will show the parties that peace is worthwhile.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid =13&artid=7888)
Towards the end of the meeting a joint communiqué was issued elaborating on its tasks. The media release emphasized one of the most important aspects of the donor conference: “While all areas of Sri Lanka have been seriously affected by the war, the North and East have suffered the most extensive destruction. We commend the parties for establishing a joint Sub-Committee on Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs in the North and East and setting up a Fund with the aim of enhancing and prioritising donor activities in these war ravaged areas, which continue to experience severe social and economic hardships. The Sub-Committee has issued an urgent appeal to the international community for immediate assistance to begin to resettle and rehabilitate internally displaced persons, address the needs of women and children and help the population to resume their economic activities. We will take into account the co-ordinating role ascribed by the parties to the Sub-Committee, in order to support this important mechanism of ownership by the parties in its work for effective reconstruction and confidence building, while stressing the need for flexibility in accepting various forms of assistance from the international community. The Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have already taken resolute steps towards peace. They face many challenges in seeking a lasting political settlement, acceptable to all communities living in the island. We therefore pledge to support their efforts with financial assistance to the people of Sri Lanka.” (http://www.tamilnet.com/ art.html?catid= 13&artid=7898)
The first press release, issued prior to the conference by the Norwegian hosts, identifies that the peace process need political as well as economic support to sustain. Moreover, it asserts that, rapid and visible measures have to be implemented in order to maintain the popular support for the peace process. Thereby, the statement agrees that the success of negotiations focused on core political issues largely depend on the ability to rapidly deliver peace dividends that are visible. In other words, the statement asserted that the success of the economic level has the sole ability of becoming a safety net to protect and sustain the achievements that were made on the political level.
And as it is evident from the second press release, the delegates (including US) unanimously accepted the importance of two salient points: first, it was the fact that the North-East should get priority in reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. Secondly, it accepted that both the GoSL and the LTTE should be recognized as equal stakeholders of the peace process who have taken resolute steps towards peace, and therefore deserve the support in their efforts (meaning efforts of both the GoSL and the LTTE). It is important to keep this in our mind, in order to understand the subsequent events that completely derailed the peace process.
The Oslo donor conference ended after mutually agreeing upon to continue the discussion in Tokyo after a period of 6 months – in June 2003. The conference concluded by paving the way to the third round of political negotiations, which was scheduled to commence at the same venue – Oslo – within few days.
But the events that followed the two meetings raised reasonable doubts about the stability of the peace process. The formation and the abandonment of Joint Sub Committees, which was considered as one of the major achievement of the first three rounds of talks, deserve serious attention.