Norwegian Mediation in Sri Lanka (1999-2008). Applying Zartman & Touval’s typology of mediator roles

Term Paper, 2015

15 Pages, Grade: 1



1. Introduction

2. Mediators’ Roles Typology

3. Methodology

4. Analysis
a. Norway in Sri Lanka
b. Mediator Roles

5. Conclusions


1. Introduction

This paper aims on applying Zartman & Touval’s (1985) typology of mediator roles on the Norwegian mediation attempt in Sri Lanka between 1999 and 2008. Its purpose is to test if the concept helps understanding the case and the negotiation outcome. The case of Sri Lanka was selected because it offers various insights for international negotiation scholars due to its long duration and strong intensity, involving different mediators, and various conflict resolution attempts, which mostly failed. I focus on the timeframe between 1999 and 2008 as this reflects the time of the official Norwegian engagement as a mediator in Sri Lanka. In this paper, I will first briefly introduce the concept of mediator roles by Zartman & Touval. Following, I conceptualize the approach into a research design applied in this paper. The chapter on analysing the case is divided in a mere descriptive part of the Norwegian mediation activities in Sri Lanka and an analytical part where the role of the mediator is identified and discussed. In the final conclusions I will summarize the insights and discuss their relevance for the Sri Lankan case.

2. Mediators’ Roles Typology

In the following chapter I will provide a brief overview on the concept of Mediators’ Roles introduced by Zartman & Touval (1985, p. 38-39). In the original article the authors introduce three different roles – the Communicator, the Formulator, and the Manipulator, which are not mutually exclusive - that a mediating third party can use to help the negotiating parties in resolving their conflict. Mediation is defined as: “a form of third-party intervention in a conflict with the stated purpose of contributing to its abatement or resolution through negotiation.” (Zartman & Touval, 1985, p. 31). This definition states some underlying assumptions that have implications for the description of mediator roles and should briefly be highlighted. Firstly, it leaves out how the third party and the conflict parties get involved in the process of mediation. This immediately leads us to why parties, in particular the mediator, get involved in the conflict and try to solve them. Secondly, Zartman & Touval (1985, p. 31) explicitly name negotiations as vehicle of mediation and define conflict resolution as the goal of mediation. This conflicts with parts of their later description of mediator roles, where conflict management strategies like confidence building or developing a framework of understanding play an important part although they do not necessarily involve negotiation between the parties. We should therefore be aware, that the authors assume those tools to be always aimed at the abatement or resolution of the conflict through negotiations.

In regard of the concept itself Zartman & Touval (1985) do not assume that each of the three different mediator roles is suitable for a particular kind of conflict, but that the different roles reflect the capabilities of different international actors to cope with the task of mediating between the parties. The roles therefore describe the different levels of how much a mediator wants to (or can) influence and affect the conflict parties towards a resolution. The primary and least influential role towards the parties is the Communicator. He mainly aims on overcoming the usually bad – if at all -communications between the parties during a conflict period. A communicator will not interpret or try to change the parties’ standpoints, but backchannel information between the groups assuming that they have the capacities to solve the conflict themselves. This kind of mediator helps the parties to save face by letting them sense possible concessions or trade-offs to come closer to an agreement. The secondary, somewhat more influential and less passive role, is the Formulator. He helps each party to explore possible solutions, their own and the other party’s interest, and formulas to tackle the conflict. Zartman & Touval (1985) attribute this role with a sense of “innovative thinking) (p. 38) and creativity in order to find new solutions outside the parties’ current horizons. The Formulator very much adds to the role of the Communicator but indicates a different kind of involvement in the conflict. Here the mediator does not have a preferred solution himself but he actively helps developing scenarios for and together with the parties. Finally, the Manipulator is the mediator role that affects the parties’ positions most by – as the name suggests – manipulating their interests. Zartman & Touval describe this mediator as a new party to the conflict rather than a custodian for peace. The Manipulator has his own ideas and preferences about how the conflict should be solved and what role each conflict party has to play. In contrast to the Communicator, the Manipulator does not let the parties solve their conflict themselves. By doing so, the Manipulator does not necessarily has to have devious objects but fosters a stable and lasting peace for instance. One main characteristic is therefore the capability and use of power towards the parties. This could be expressed by particular support ranging from logistics to capacity building or open lobbying for one party. Or the mediator can provide security guarantees for an agreement or that a ceasefire will be overseen and even enforced by the mediator’s own resources.

3. Methodology

My guiding research question is which mediator role Norway applied in Sri Lanka and further, how the role affected the success or failure of the negotiations. Based on previous Norwegian mediation attempts and according to their own proclamations, I argue that Norway aimed on taking the role of a Communicator mediator between the conflict parties Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). However, I test if throughout the mediation Norway also fulfilled several characteristics of both Formulator and even Manipulator roles. As I aim to apply the concept of mediator roles to the Sri Lankan case, my null hypothesis is that Norway applied a Communicator strategy. Accordingly, my alternative hypothesises are that Norway applied a Formulator strategy and Norway applied a Manipulator strategy. In order to proof one of the hypothesises, I will analyse the Norwegian mediation attempt in Sri Lanka and highlight the following indicators that have been applied and those that were not. After identifying the role of mediator applied, I will focus on the second part of the question: How it affected the outcome of the negotiations.

Based on the three-fold role typology we can define certain indicators for the three mediator types summarized in the following table based on Bercovitch & Gartner (1992, p. 17-18):

illustration not visible in this excerpt

4. Analysis

a. Norway in Sri Lanka

Norway’s engagement as a mediator in Sri Lanka started as an informal mission in May 1999 when President Kumaratunga of Sri Lanka invited Norway to set up an indirect communication channel with LTTE (Kelleher et al 2014, p.118; Åkebo, 2013, p. 170). As this effort was confidential, only rare data on the activities of Norway during 1999 is available. A Norwegian delegation travelled to Sri Lanka to consult the different parties in regard of their agenda for a forthcoming peace process and in order to start off a new dialog (Jeyaraj, 2000). After a bomb attack against President Kumaratunga in late 1999 she announced Norway publicly as facilitator, which contrasted the Norwegian style and their expertise of acting as a background communicator between the parties. However, the GoSL emphasized the need for a facilitator[1] rather than a mediator, and that the conflict parties have to solve their conflict themselves (Jeyaraj, 2000).

According to Åkebo (2013, p. 169) the agreement of both parties for Norway as mediator was based to a large extent on the fact that it is a renowned facilitator, far away without colonial past, and has no power over the conflict parties so it can act as a credible facilitator between them. The first steps in negotiating and end to the conflict were focused on the humanitarian needs of the Sri Lankan people and succeed in the Norwegian proposal of an Agreement on Humanitarian Measures (AHM) between the parties (Talpahewa, 2015, p. 113). However, the agreement was never signed or implemented and during 2000 the parties did not get closer to start negotiating a ceasefire as the GoSL insisted on declaring a ceasefire after negotiations have started, while the LTTE refused to start negotiations as long as they are under an economic embargo of the GoSL and declared a terrorist organization, which led to a deadlock. Despite all Norwegian efforts, the LTTE would not let down on these conditions what made it hard for the mediator to move forward without changing the parties positions. Although, the LTTE declared a unilateral ceasefire in the end of the year, Norway was not able to get the parties to the table (Åkebo, 2013, p. 169). In 2000 and 2001 Norway focused mainly on exploring possibilities with the parties to proceed with a ceasefire by indirect talks and shuttle diplomacy mainly through the Norwegian Special Representative Erik Solheim (Talpahewa, 2015, p. 105 -107). He and the Norwegian Ambassador Jon Westborg drafted an Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) during this period, which was later amended by President Kumaratunga (Talpahewa, 2015, p. 109) but never agreed upon by LTTE due to their announced pre-conditions. However, this document should be of use as a starting point for the work on the later ceasefire agreement (ibid., p. 130). Particularly during early 2001 Norway started to act more actively as a Formulator by proposing ideas to move the process forward while the parties increased hostilities once again: GoSL initiated a large scale attack against the LTTE in April 2001 and in July of the same year LTTE attacked the international airport of Colombo (Uyangoda, 2006, p. 235). These events led to a considerable loss of credibility for Norway as a mediator as they previously have signalled to LTTE that there would be no major offensives from the side of the GoSL. Also, Erik Solheim stated towards the GoSL that the current events might lead up to a full-scale war again, which would have meant a retreat and failure for the Norwegian initiative. He made clear at this meeting with President Kumaratunga that Norway has no understanding of what the LTTE’s next steps would be. Later in the same year Norway decreased its activities due to a turbulent political environment, awaiting the upcoming elections in Sri Lanka (Talpahewa, 2015, p. 106). Moreover, Norway and the GoSL decided to accompany Solheim by two additional Norwegian representatives in June 2001 after the GoSL raised doubts regarding his impartiality and accused him of being biased towards the LTTE side – a claim against the mediator that will be repeated throughout its entire involvement (Uyangoda, 2006, p. 246). They LTTE protested against this bilateral move of Norway and the GoSL as it felt overlooked.

As the United National Front won the elections in December 2001 it paid out for Norway that they had kept the opposition party informed due to their mediator role since their early involvement (Talpahewa, 2015, p. 116). New Prime Minister Wickremesinghe from the UNF supported immediate negotiations with the LTTE in order to reach a ceasefire and move on to tangible peace talks as soon as possible (Åkebo, 2013, p. 170). International pressure was high on the new GoSL as the country had become under pressure due to years of missing foreign direct investments, the continuing humanitarian crisis in the north of the country, donors that were reluctant to fund anything before the ongoing conflict is solved for good, and finally, the increased international focus on terrorist organizations’ activities (like LTTE was labeled) after 9/11. The new GoSL agreed on the LTTE’s previous conditions and to proceed along a step-by-step formula now persisted by the LTTE but initially suggested by Norway. Once again the LTTE declared a unilateral ceasefire, which this time was responded to by an equal ceasefire by the GoSL and prolonged by both sides throughout the following indirect negotiations that led up to the final Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) (Åkebo, 2013, p. 171). Norway circulated position papers of both parties between them and merged them to achieve a final agreement. After two months on February 22nd 2002 the CFA was signed by both parties, although President Kumaratunga claimed that she has been largely excluded from the process and that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was the only government official who was cooperated with by the Norwegians (Talpahewa, 2015, p. 132). In the CFA Norway had managed to provide a framework for the upcoming negotiations that would be based on the national integrity of Sri Lanka, which can be understood as a major concession from the LTTE side as they were no longer claiming a separate Tamil Eelam state for now. It also contained several measures on trust and confidence-building[2] plus the creation of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) (Åkebo, 2013, p. 173-174). For Norway the creation of SLMM should become one of the major features of their engagement in Sri Lanka. SLMM was meant to oversee the CFA by monitoring violations to it, investigating and reporting them to both sides. The parties demanded that Norway should provide personnel and resources for the mission but Norway denied pointing at the difficulties raised through a mediator being the monitor at the same time. Instead Norway assembled a group of European Nordic countries including Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and itself (ibid., p. 174-175). The mission increased its size from initially 23 to 60 people and picked up their work a month after the CFA had been signed. The following period before the first round of peace negotiations can be characterized by growing security and an improved situation of people especially in the Tamil populated regions (Åkebo, 2013, p. 176). After the GoSL’s renunciation of categorizing the LTTE a terrorist organization in September the way was finally clear for the peace talks to start.

Norway had offered Oslo as venue for the first official meeting of the peace talks but was rejected. Instead Norway was to host the first talks in Thailand, where the parties agreed to start with easy topics and leave the most disputed questions up for later discussion (Holt, 2011, p. 80). Norway intended to let the parties set an agenda of the negotiations and use the more consent matters on humanitarian needs to build trust between the parties in the first place (Kelleher et al., 2014, p. 123). Three sub-committees were installed, one on De-escalation and Normalisation, one on Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs, and one on Political Matters. Most importantly during the first round, the LTTE negotiator Balasingham informally opened up the possibility of a federal solution to the Tamil aspirations, paralleling the Norwegian framework. In October 2002 the second round of talks was held again in Thailand, leading to the establishment of further sub-committees as suggested by Norway. Norway went forward to organize a donor conference in Oslo to support the peace process financially and offer economic incentives to the parties to stay engaged in the negotiations (Talpahewa, 2015, p. 137-138). In the same month one incident Norway received overwhelming criticism for is the deployment of 6 tons of radio transmission equipment to the LTTE in October 2002 by ordering it through the Norwegian Embassy to Sri Lanka and thereby short cutting Sri Lankan VAT and the embargo on the LTTE (Talpahewa, 2015, p. 90). The promised donor conference was held in late November and kicked off several internationally funded peacebuilding projects in Sri Lanka. The conference was followed by the third rounds of negotiations in Oslo, where the parties finally came closer to the core issues of the conflict. Both parties stated that they would foster a solution within the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. In 2003 the fourth round led to the establishment of another sub-committee on gender issues and the implementation of the North East Reconstruction Fund over 70 Mio USD created at the donor conference and managed through the World Bank (Holt, 2011, p. 81). During the fifth round hold in Germany the situation on the ground in Sri Lanka became more hostile and the SLMM recorded an increasing number of ceasefire violations (Åkebo, 2013, p. 177). Particularly the activities of the naval section of the LTTE, the Sea Tigers, raised doubts on the organization’s credibility. Although during the sixth round of negotiations in Japan both parties pledged to hold up the CFA and continue the peace talks, the LTTE abandoned the process one month later referring to their exclusion from a donor conference hold in Washington (due to their continued international black listing as terrorist organization) but also because decisions made during the negotiations were claimed to be not implemented sufficiently (Holt, 2011, p. 81; Åkebo, 2013, p. 178). A following donor conference held without the LTTE led to an increased offer of development aid from international actors as long as the peace process is brought further forward. Kelleher et al. (2014, p. 132) argue that Norway’s decision to not influence the development aid policies of other countries but also their own NGOs in Sri Lanka has left out the possibility to coordinate development efforts with the peace process and also ironically added to the perception in the South of Sri Lanka of Norway being biased towards LTTE. The LTTE’s decision to abandon the talks thereafter led to a sustainable breakdown of the negotiations.


[1] With regard to Zartman & Touval’s approach I will not follow this distinction between a facilitator and a mediator but understand them both as mediators as defined earlier. Therefore, facilitation is just one kind of mediation.

[2] For instance a forum was established where the heads of both militaries LTTE and GoSL would meet and discuss urgent topics (Åkebo, 2013, p. 176).

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Norwegian Mediation in Sri Lanka (1999-2008). Applying Zartman & Touval’s typology of mediator roles
Uppsala University  (Department of Peace and Conflict Research)
International Negotiations
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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548 KB
Mediation, Sri Lanka, Norway, Peace, Conflict, LTTE, Communicator, Formulator, Manipulator, Erik Solheim
Quote paper
Johannes Wander (Author), 2015, Norwegian Mediation in Sri Lanka (1999-2008). Applying Zartman & Touval’s typology of mediator roles, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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