- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 28, 2002

OSLO The descendants of the warlike Vikings still wind up in many of the world's worst conflicts, except that modern Norwegians are more like doves of peace.
From Afghanistan to the Balkans, from Guatemala to the Middle East, it seems that wherever there's trouble these days, there's a Norwegian peacemaker.
"There is a feeling out in the world that if you send a Norwegian, the conflict will be solved," said Geir Lundestad, secretary of the committee that selects winners of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded each year in Oslo.
Since Norway burst onto the peacemaking scene with the 1993 announcement that it brokered an Israeli-Palestinian treaty through a secret "Oslo channel," requests for peace envoys have streamed into the close-knit Scandinavian nation of 4.5 million people. In response, prominent Norwegian politicians and diplomats have been dispatched to various conflict-ridden areas.
The Israeli-Palestinian peace effort one of Norway's greatest triumphs is now in tatters, undermined by years of trying to negotiate details of a final treaty and by 18 months of violence. But Jan Egeland, a key player in that effort, says Norway recognizes there are risks of failure when taking on peacemaking challenges that others often resist.
"If there was a remote chance, we took the chance when other countries wouldn't," said Mr. Egeland, a former deputy foreign minister. "It's the sides that have to make peace; we can only help."
Peace efforts have become a foreign-policy priority for Oslo, with the development over the past decade of a "Norwegian model" an unusual alliance of government and civilian organizations.
One of its latest efforts, in Sri Lanka, at last seems to be paying off.
After more than two years of trying, Norwegian mediators got the government and Tamil Tiger rebels to sign a cease-fire in February as a step toward ending 18 years of war that has killed more than 63,000 people. The two sides are preparing for formal peace talks.
Politician Erik Solheim, a special peace envoy, worked in secret to start the peace effort in Sri Lanka before it became public two years ago.
"We started in Sri Lanka with the idea of copying the Middle East process, but we very quickly came to the realization that every conflict and every country is different," he said. "We try to build confidence. We are neutral and have no other agenda than to try to resolve a conflict."
One reason Norway has emerged as a global peacemaker, say those involved, is that a small country with no colonial past and no threatening military or economic power can often mediate where a superpower cannot.
"We have a positive image, seen as a small friendly, peaceful, bridge-building land," said Hilde Henriksen Waage of the Peace Research Institute at Oslo. The private institute has worked on peace efforts in Cyprus, the Balkans and elsewhere.
Norway does not take up every peace challenge one key condition is that both sides must be sufficiently committed to reaching agreement.
When it accepts, the Foreign Ministry usually provides money and resources, while nongovernmental organizations, church groups and others provide contacts, expertise and ideas. Private groups can do things a government would not attempt, such as disguising secret talks as humanitarian or academic meetings.
"What is the Norwegian model? It is cooperation flexible cooperation between the government authorities and volunteer, academic and international organizations," said Mr. Egeland, who has been a peace broker for Norway or the United Nations in conflicts in Cyprus, Mali and Colombia and is now secretary-general of the Norwegian Red Cross.
"It is also patience, patience, patience," he added.
For example, Norway has been trying for years just to get peace talks started between rebels and the government in Sudan, Africa's biggest country.
Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, a Lutheran clergyman, said events such as the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States and the ensuing war in Afghanistan underscore how important it is to keep working for world peace.
As the world's third-largest oil exporter, Norway can afford to put money into peacemaking and to remain engaged in drawn-out negotiations. And broad political support at home means those efforts survive government changes.
Norwegian peacemakers have assumed many roles: broker, facilitator, go-between or simply host, often changing as needed.
Terje Roed-Larsen, a Norwegian academic, was studying Palestinians' living conditions in Palestinian areas when he and his wife diplomat Mona Juul realized that Israelis and Palestinians were seeking a way out of their 40-year conflict.
Mr. Roed-Larsen, now U.N. peace envoy for the Middle East, got support from Norway's government for more than a year of secret talks between Israel and the Palestinian leadership that led to the Oslo agreement in August 1993.
Even before the Oslo channel came into the spotlight, the private group Norwegian Church Aid had been working in Guatemala since 1976 and had good contacts on both sides of Central America's longest civil war.
The country's leftist rebels wanted talks, so in 1989 the Norwegian church group suggested contacting Gunnar Staalsett, then head of the Lutheran World Foundation and now a Lutheran bishop.
Mr. Staalsett called the Norwegian Foreign Ministry about sponsoring and financing peace talks.
"They said 'yes' right away on the phone. It's amazing, but that's the way a small country works," Mr. Staalsett said.
He recalled the nervousness ahead of the first meeting in 1990. The rebels arrived first, wondering if the government would show up. Government officials did indeed show up, and the two sides started work on an accord that was signed six years later, ending a 36-year war that had cost 140,000 lives.
The start was typical of the Norwegian style, with a government promise to help tempered by a reminder that "it's your problem," Mr. Staalsett said.
The peace policy goes beyond talk.
A NATO member, Norway is a major contributor to U.N. and other peacekeeping operations and a big foreign aid donor. These days, Norway has troops in Afghanistan and leads the international support group for that Central Asian nation.
Norway sees peace as a way of protecting its heavy investment in development aid, which amounts to 0.9 percent of its gross domestic product.
"What is the point of us building school after school, then having schools bombed, then building more new schools, and having them bombed, too?" said Raymond Johansen, a former deputy foreign minister.

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