Saturday, May 9, 2009

‘There is no appetite for more conflict’

Norwegian Minister for Environment and International Development, Erik Solheim keeps close tabs on the processes of conflict resolution around the world. He has served as the Norwegian facilitator for the negotiations between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government. He was also in close contact with the Maoists during the insurgency. Norway, along with other Scandinavian countries has been relatively more positive and accommodating of the Maoists participation in the democratic process in Nepal. Minister Erik Solheim, who hosted Prime Minister Dahal during his visit to Norway at the end of March this year, spoke to John Narayan Parajuli, over phone from Oslo. Excerpts from the conversation:
JNP: There has been dramatic turn of events in Nepal that has led to resignation of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, how do you view these developments?
Solheim: I take a very optimistic view. I am hopeful that the conflict will be resolved peacefully and that the Nepal’s peace process will continue to move further in a positive direction.
JNP: Norway has very been supportive of the peace process in Nepal. But in the light of the current situation, is there a role you can play to defuse the tension?
Solheim: First of all, the local ownership is important to resolve any conflict. We continue to encourage all the actors including the military to resolve the differences amicably. If any assistance is asked of us, we will be happy to provide whatever we can.
JNP: You have been in contact with Prachanda during the insurgency; how would you describe your role in encouraging the Maoists to come to the mainstream?
Solheim: It was an independent decision on the part of the Maoists to take part in the peace process. From the international community, Norway was the first to speak to the Maoists while they were still in the jungle. Our general policy is to speak to everyone. We were also talking with the CPN UML, Nepali Congress and other parties during the same period.
JNP: The international community has been skeptical about the Maoists commitment to democracy, and with recent developments many fear that the peace process could be derailed.
Solheim: Maoists deserve credit for acting democratically in the current crisis. When they could not do what they wanted, the Prime Minister resigned in a true democratic fashion.
JNP: But not everyone in the international community is equally convinced of the Maoists democratic credentials. For instance the US has been more skeptical of the Maoists.
Solheim: It is very normal to have different views among the members of the international community. I understand the United States is more skeptical. I have discussed these issues with American officials and other leaders from time to time.
JNP: What are some of the biggest concerns of the Norwegian government about Nepal’s fledgling peace process?
Solheim: Nepal lies in a very vulnerable part or world, South Asia, where there are many conflicts: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Nepal has been able to peacefully resolve some of the outstanding conflict. And the important aspect of it is that the whole peace process is homegrown. Even the Madhesi parties have participated in the process. Of course, the international community has supported the peace process, but there is only so much they can do. Our biggest concern is not to let this light of peace in Nepal to be consumed by darkness. The international community has its handful with so many conflicts in the region that there is no appetite for more conflict.
JNP: Someone who keeps a close tabs on the conflict resolution endeavors in many places, how would you grade the progress of Nepal’s peace process?
Solheim: Up until the recent crisis, Nepal has scored an ‘A’. I remember in 2003-4, when many Nepalis frustrated with the conflict came to me and asked how can we peacefully resolve our conflict and learn from the Sri Lankan experience, when the negotiations there were yielding positive results. Two years later Nepal has now become the model other countries to emulate.
JNP: Prime Minister Prachanda recently returned from Norway and he described the visit has highly successful especially in terms of securing support for the hydroelectric sector. What is your own assessment of his recent visit and will your assistance change due to the possible change in government?
Solheim: I have been impressed by Prime Minister Prachanda’s leadership both as the leader of his party and as the Prime Minister of Nepal during his visit to Norway. A key aspect of his visit was about Norway’s support for Nepal’s hydroelectric development. We have said before that we are ready to support Nepal. We do not prefer this party over that party and our support will be extended to any democratic government. Our support is to the people of Nepal.
JNP: What can Nepal learn from Norway’s experience in harnessing hydropower for prosperity?
Solheim: Hydropower is the foundation for today’s modern prosperous Norway. Norway has technical expertise and environmental sensitivity to generate power without causing much destruction of the environment. Nepal can learn from our experience.

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