| A Buddhist monk walks into a temple in Colombo. (Reuters)
Colombo, Nov. 18 (Reuters): Sri Lanka’s President and Prime Minister appointed a committee today to resolve their feud over sharing power, but no early end was in sight to the dispute that has frozen a peace process with Tamil Tiger rebels.
The decision came at a 90-minute meeting between President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who sacked three cabinet ministers in early November, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, their offices said in a statement.
“A committee of officials was appointed to work out the details of future working arrangements under which the President and Prime Minister could work together on these important national issues,” the statement said. But it added that the feuding pair, who are elected separately but must work together in an awkward dual-headed government, would not meet again for two weeks.
It gave no further details of what had been said or of the committee’s mandate. The country has been in a constitutional crisis since Kumaratunga sacked the ministers and temporarily suspended parliament.
Efforts to end 20 years of war have been on hold since Kumaratunga’s power grab, which she said was done because the Prime Minister was conceding too much to the rebels. She then called for a “national unity government” made up of all parties.
Wickremesinghe turned that down and demanded that the President, who has wide constitutional powers over the army and heads the cabinet, reinstate the sacked ministers or take over the peace process.
Some political analysts have said the political fight could end in general elections if there is no compromise, but others said the appointment of the committee was a positive step. “It gives both of them time to work out a solution that meets their needs,” said Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council.
“It may spell the way for some sort of compromise,” he said.
The meeting at Kumaratunga’s official residence came one day before parliament — where Wickremesinghe’s government has a slim majority — was due to resume work with the presentation of the 2004 budget, which was to have taken place one week ago.
Cabinet spokesman G.L. Peiris repeated yesterday Wickremesinghe’s rejection of a national government, but said the Prime Minister was willing to form a consensus among political parties — including the President’s — on issues related to the peace process. Peiris provided no details on how such a consensus might be reached.
Both sides are under pressure to compromise. Norway, which brokered a February 2002 truce that has given the island its best chance yet to end a war that has killed 64,000, said it would suspend its role until their differences were resolved.
Kumaratunga has repeatedly said that the military would honour the ceasefire. So have the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, fighting since 1983 for a separate state for minority Tamils.
Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers said today their most senior negotiator would return to the job after several months off, an indication the rebels were serious about peace despite a political crisis in the government.
The surprise announcement by the Tigers, made through a pro-rebel website, comes as President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are working to resolve their power struggle that has put the peace process on hold.