Envoy wants to testify on Sri Lanka war ‘atrocities’

A top Norwegian peace envoy said he would testify to any international war crimes investigation over "atrocities" committed during Sri Lanka's separatist conflict, a report said on Sunday.

Envoy wants to testify on Sri Lanka war 'atrocities'
Top peace envoy Erik Solheim (L) talks with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, prior to a meeting in Colombo in 2006. Photo: Sri Lankan Presidency/AFP

Norway's Erik Solheim said he was prepared to give evidence on the final months of Sri Lanka's decades-long war which he had tried but failed to resolve peacefully.

Solheim told a newspaper that atrocities were committed in the final months, including shelling of hospitals in the battle zone and executions of surrendering rebels.

"The war was won at a tremendous cost and I will (act as a) witness before any recognized international tribunal investigating Sri Lanka," Solheim told the local Ceylon Today weekly.

"Such atrocities cannot be buried without conducting investigations into them" he said.

"Time cannot pass on without probing these alleged crimes."  

Solheim, a former international development minister, confirmed the report in an email to AFP.

The UN Human Rights Council in March voted in favour of setting up an international probe to look into allegations that up to 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final stages of the war, a charge Colombo vehemently denies.

A team of investigators is expected to be named shortly, but Colombo opposes any foreign inquiry.

Solheim's mission was formally aborted by Colombo in April 2009, a month before the end of war between the military and Tamil Tiger rebels.

Sri Lanka's war ended after a bloody finale by the military against the rebels fighting for a separate homeland for the ethnic Tamil minority.

Solheim did not give details of any evidence he would provide to an investigation. He said he was aware of a top Tiger leader who tried to surrender during the final stages of the war, but had been killed.

Solheim said he had asked Tamil Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran in the final four months to accept an "organised end to the war," or a surrender, which could have saved tens of thousands of lives.

"The war could have been solved through peace talks without military action," he said.

Norway was invited to broker peace in Sri Lanka in December 1999. Solheim raised hopes of a peace breakthrough when he announced on November 1, 2000 that the elusive Tiger chief Prabhakaran was serious about talks.

A ceasefire arranged by Norway was torn up after Tamil Tigers tried to assassinate then army chief Sarath Fonseka in April 2006, a move that drew strong retaliatory attacks from government forces.

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Norway to send 200,000 AstraZeneca doses to Sweden and Iceland

Norway, which has suspended the use of AstraZeneca's Covid vaccine until further notice, will send 216,000 doses to Sweden and Iceland at their request, the Norwegian health ministry said Thursday.

Norway to send 200,000 AstraZeneca doses to Sweden and Iceland
Empty vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

“I’m happy that the vaccines we have in stock can be put to use even if the AstraZeneca vaccine has been paused in Norway,” Health Minister Bent Høie said in a statement.

The 216,000 doses, which are currently stored in Norwegian fridges, have to be used before their expiry dates in June and July.

Sweden will receive 200,000 shots and Iceland 16,000 under the expectation they will return the favour at some point. 

“If we do resume the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, we will get the doses back as soon as we ask,” Høie said.

Like neighbouring Denmark, Norway suspended the use of the AstraZeneca jab on March 11 in order to examine rare but potentially severe side effects, including blood clots.

Among the 134,000 AstraZeneca shots administered in Norway before the suspension, five cases of severe thrombosis, including three fatal ones, had been registered among relatively young people in otherwise good health. One other person died of a brain haemorrhage.

On April 15, Norway’s government ignored a recommendation from the Institute of Public Health to drop the AstraZeneca jab for good, saying it wanted more time to decide.

READ MORE: Norway delays final decision on withdrawal of AstraZeneca vaccine 

The government has therefore set up a committee of Norwegian and international experts tasked with studying all of the risks linked to the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which is also suspected of causing blood clots.

Both are both based on adenovirus vector technology. Denmark is the only European country to have dropped the AstraZeneca
vaccine from its vaccination campaign, and said on Tuesday it would “lend” 55,000 doses to the neighbouring German state of Schleswig-Holstein.