OSLO, Aug 2 (Reuters) Norway will keep its ceasefire monitors in Sri Lanka and stay engaged as a peace facilitator despite resurgent violence and the expulsion of EU members from the monitoring mission, Norway's aid minister said today.
Norway mediated a 2002 ceasefire between rebel Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government. The deal still exists on paper but lies in tatters amid open clashes between the two sides of the two decade conflict.
Norway's International Development Minister Erik Solheim, who brokered the 2002 truce, said the Sri Lankan situation was the most serious it had been since the ceasefire.
''It is prudent to point to the fact that as many people have been killed in Sri Lanka this year at the time of an official ceasefire as the number of people killed in Lebanon during the war (there) so far - about 800 in both places,'' Solheim said.
Solheim urged both sides in the Sri Lankan conflict to halt their offensives immediately, but said Norway's patience was ''limitless'' and it would stay involved on the Indian Ocean island as long as the two sides wanted its assistance.
''The monitoring mission will continue as long as it can do something useful,'' Solheim said, confirming that Norway would keep its monitors in Sri Lanka despite the Tigers demand that EU members Sweden, Finland and Denmark pull out by September.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam said in June that EU members must withdraw from the five-nation Nordic mission after the EU labelled the LTTE a terrorist organisation in May.
The expulsion of 34 EU monitors from the unarmed Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) would leave only non-EU Norway and Iceland with 20 monitors between them.
Norwegian peace envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer is due to arrive in Sri Lanka on Friday for talks with government and Tiger representatives on how to restructure the monitoring mission.
Hanssen-Bauer will ask the two sides for their suggestions on how to end the escalation of violence, but Solheim held out little hope for progress during the visit.
''As it stands now, there is no reason for any kind of optimism,'' he said, but added it was important to keep face-to-face contact.
Solheim said the two realistic options were to maintain a reduced SLMM or to recruit other countries to serve. But he said it could be hard to bring other nations into the mission unless the government and Tigers respected the truce.
He declined to say which other countries could join.
He said the third alternative was to withdraw the mission altogether, but he said that would be contrary to the wishes of the parties to the conflict and of the international community.
REUTERS LL BD2012