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America urges rivals to patch up

Washington, Nov. 5 (Reuters): The US yesterday voiced concern that Sri Lanka’s political tensions could harm the peace process with the Tamil Tiger rebels and it urged the island’s President and Prime Minister to work together.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga sacked three ministers, suspended parliament and ordered troops to guard key installations, infuriating arch-rival Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who during a visit to Washington described the moves as desperate and irresponsible and said they could plunge the country into chaos and anarchy.

“We urge the President and Prime Minister to work together, to bolster the peace process and to protect Sri Lanka’s democratic institutions,” state department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

“We are concerned that these events could have a negative effect on the peace process and talks with the LTTE, and we stand firmly behind the government of Sri Lanka in its search for peace after 20 years of bloody conflict,” he added.

However, an LTTE spokesman in northern Sri Lanka said he had no comment on the President’s moves but denied rumours the main north-south highway that runs through rebel-controlled territory had been closed.

The turn of events appeared to leave Washington officials scratching their heads, coming out of the blue in a week when Wickremesinghe met deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage and was preparing for talks with President George W. Bush.

Wickremesinghe planned to keep to his Washington schedule which includes seeing Bush at the White House.

The split between the President and the Prime Minister has been building since Wickremesinghe’s party won parliamentary elections in late 2001, with Kumaratunga sharply critical of government efforts to end the 20-year war with the rebels.

United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan has hoped that the peace process in Sri Lanka would not be harmed by the President Kumaratunga’s decision to sack three cabinet ministers, temporarily suspend parliament and order troops to guard key sites.

A UN spokesman said Annan is closely monitoring the political developments in Sri Lanka following decisions taken by Kumaratunga.

Commenting on Kumaratunga’s actions, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said: “I welcome the commitment that both the President and the government have demonstrated in taking the peace process forward. The recent developments must not be allowed to jeopardise that process,”

Japan, by far the biggest donor of aid to Sri Lanka, also called on the President and Prime Minister to “swiftly” settle their differences.

But Kumaratunga’s moves have already created unease among Tamils, both because of worries about arbitrary arrests and a return to war.

“I’m going to wait a few days before I go to Jaffna in case something happens. I don’t want to get trapped there,” said one Tamil visiting Colombo from Canada.

Jaffna is in the Tamil-dominated north of the country and has been the focal point in the 20-year civil war between the Tamil rebels and the government, which is dominated by the majority Sinhalese community.

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