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Lanka rivals break to meet again
- President, PM trade blame

Colombo, Nov. 12: The talks between Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe ended in a deadlock today.

However, a joint statement released after the meeting said the two leaders are scheduled to meet again. This time, the Prime Minister plans to bring leaders of his ruling United National Front allies, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the Tamil National Alliance, to the negotiating table.

The LTTE issue was not discussed today as the face-to-face meeting between the two rivals dissolved into a litany of complaints from both sides. Both Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe spent over two hours together but have nothing constructive to show for it. This is the first time the two leaders have met since the political crisis erupted last week.

Significantly, Wickremesinghe did not ask Kumaratunga to return the defence, interior and information portfolios which she had seized from his government.

Instead, the Prime Minister told Kumaratunga to take over the peace talks with the Tamil Tigers as his government was unable to handle the negotiations without control over the defence forces. Wickremesinghe knows that Kumaratunga’s relations with the Tamil Tigers have completely broken down. Therefore, by offering her to take over the peace talks with the LTTE, Wickremesinghe has managed to push her into a corner.

Kumaratunga, however, has said she is worried about the security situation in the country. The President’s critics say that she is not so concerned about a possible “sellout” to the LTTE as to build up a selling point for winning an election for the People’s Alliance.

However, Lakshman Kadirgamar, former Lankan foreign minister and a close aide to the President, denies these charges. “The President is dismayed at the concessions the government has been giving to the LTTE. Since the ceasefire agreement was signed in February 2002, the Prime Minister and his aides have turned a blind eye to the LTTE’s activities.

“They have been killing alleged informants, bringing in arms — between six and nine shipments have arrived since the ceasefire came into force — and stepped up the recruitment and training of young Tamil boys and girls,” he said.

“What is alarming is that the camps they have set up encircle the Trincomalee harbour to make sure that the Sri Lankan naval base in the east is destroyed in case hostilities break out again,” Kadirgamar said.

The former foreign minister added that Kumaratunga cannot sit quietly and allow the country’s security to be jeopardised. “She will be failing in her duty as executive President and the people of this country will not forgive her.”

As the two Sinhalese leaders continued their public bickerings, the LTTE was enjoying a hearty laugh.

The peace process has been stalled this time not because of them, but because the Sinhalese leadership cannot present a united front.

“It reinforces the old stereotype that that there can be no Sinhalese consensus on equal rights and co-existence of the Tamil minorities on the island,” senior Tamil United Liberation Front leader Samandhan said.

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