Norway Sri Lanka expert to be environment minister

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OSLO, Oct 18 (Reuters) Norway's international development minister was also appointed environment minister today as part of the biggest cabinet reshuffle since the Labour-led government came to power two years ago.

Erik Solheim, a mediator between Sri Lanka's government and Tamil Tiger rebels, will take over from his Socialist Party colleague Environment Minister Helen Bjoernoy who has been criticised by green activists for failing to exert more influence in a nation that depends heavily on oil revenues.

Solheim will keep his international development portfolio, an important foreign policy post in a country which spends about 1 per cent of its gross domestic product on foreign aid, among the highest in the world.

''The fact that Erik Solheim will become both minister for the environment and for development is something we do to underline the close connection between development and the environment,'' Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.

He praised Bjoernoy, saying she had ''achieved a lot''.

The three-party cabinet, dominated by Stoltenberg's Labour Party, replaced two more ministers in a mid-term reshuffle a month after local elections in which the Socialists fared badly.

Stoltenberg appointed Tora Aasland, a regional governor, to head the ministry of education and research. Former immigration chief, Martinique-born Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen, will head the ministry for children and equality.

Solheim helped broker a now collapsed 2002 ceasefire in Sri Lanka. He has said that Norway is ready to help at any time to resume attempts to end two decades of civil war between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels.

About 70,000 people have died in the conflict.

The outspoken Solheim, a former leader of the Socialist Party, might give a higher profile to the environment in Norway.

Socialists Bjoernoy and Oeystein Kaare Djupedal, the sacked education minister, have both faced criticism after support for their far-left party halved in last month's polls compared with the local election in 2003.

The government launched in April what it called ''the world's most ambitious climate goal'', where it pledged to reach zero net emissions of carbon dioxide by 2050 through a mix of cuts at home, green investments abroad and purchases of CO2 permits.

But Stoltenberg claimed most of the credit and Bjoernoy has often been in the shadows.

REUTERS RSA RAI2156

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