Sri Lankan political crisis deals double blow to peace bid
COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s troubled peace bid could suffer another blow from the deepening political crisis between the cohabitation government and a hostile president, officials and analysts said on Sunday.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have been in a tense stand-off since Friday over Kumaratunga taking over the Development Lotteries Board run by the Economic Reforms ministry.
The premier warned the president publicly Saturday to back off amid mounting concern among Colombo-based diplomats that the political crisis could impact on Norway’s efforts to broker peace in the embattled island.
Wickremesinghe, in his first public speech since the stand-off began unfolding on Friday, said that Kumaratunga must change her mind or the country would plunge into a deeper crisis.
He said the erosion of authority from his government could encourage the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who suspended peace talks on April 21, to shun peace negotiations.
“The LTTE might say the government cannot do this (negotiate for peace). Its powers are taken away from time to time,” Wickremesinghe said. “If that happens, the peace process will be weakened. On the other hand, the government will be weakened.”
Politicians from minority Tamil parties expressed concern over the latest cohabitation crisis and said the confrontation might give the Tigers an excuse to stay away from talks.
“The Tigers can now say they don’t want talks with an unstable government,” a Tamil legislator here said. “This crisis will have a serious bearing on the peace process.”
Norwegian peace brokers and Japanese diplomats are working to persuade the Tigers to end their boycott and take part in negotiations aimed at ending three decades of ethnic bloodshed.
The premier also raised concerns about a planned donor conference Japan is hosting on June 9-10 to drum up international financial support to rebuild the country.
Earlier, the focus was on the Tigers who had announced they would boycott the aid conference, but with the latest political crisis here the attention has moved to the stability of the Colombo government, diplomats said.
Kumaratunga has not yet responded to the premier’s comments but her People’s Alliance party Sunday accused Wickremesinghe’s government of using strong-arm tactics to prevent the publication of the presidential order. Before she could give legal effect to the Development Lotteries Board move by publishing the decree in the official gazette, the government Friday night shut down the state printing presses, officials said.
Police were deployed to guard the presses while the road leading to the press was also sealed off by armed police, officials said.
The People’s Alliance argued that the Development Lotteries Board was acquired by the president because the ministry which controlled it failed to give money to a presidential fund that finances charities. Kumaratunga in a letter Friday justified taking over the lotteries board by saying it had been under her care until her party lost the December 2001 elections. Wickremesinghe said any changes to ministries should be done with his consultation. “I regret I cannot agree to any subject or function assigned (to a minister) being changed by yourself without reference to me as prime minister,” he said in a terse one-page letter issued Friday.
Kumaratunga wields extensive executive powers under the 1978 constitution, but her party is in the opposition in the national legislature, which controls finances. The administration is also in the hands of the premier. Official sources said cabinet ministers who held an emergency meeting Saturday discussed the possibility of a snap poll to end the stand-off with the president. —AFP
US, Norway step up efforts
COLOMBO: International efforts to restart Sri Lanka’s peace process entered a second week on Sunday, with envoys from the United States and peace-broker Norway trying to get negotiations with Tamil Tiger rebels back on track.
US Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca arrives late on Sunday, and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen arrives on Wednesday for talks to prevent the island from slipping back into its 20-year civil war. “We expect no breakthroughs,” said Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen, who held talks with both sides last week and will accompany Petersen for two days of meetings with the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Despite last week’s efforts, Helgesen and an envoy from Japan, the island’s biggest aid donor, could not convince the Tigers to restart talks, which they suspended in April over what they say is a lack of progress rebuilding war-hit Tamil areas. The peace bid is seen as Sri Lanka’s best chance to end the war that has killed 64,000 after four previous bids failed, and international involvement has been a major factor keeping direct talks on track since a truce was signed in February 2002.
Japanese envoy Yasushi Akashi told the rebels, who have been fighting since 1983 for a separate Tamil state in the north and east, he expected an answer by May 14 as to whether they would attend a donor conference in Tokyo set for early June. Akashi said the conference, which is expected to raise $3 billion over three years for rebuilding, would go ahead regardless of their decision. During her two days of meetings, Rocca will not meet the rebels since they are banned by the United States as a “terrorist organisation”. “While in Colombo, she will meet with a variety of government officials, political leaders, non-government groups and private individuals to discuss bilateral and regional issues,” the US embassy said in a statement. She will also visit Buddhist religious leaders in the hill country city of Kandy and travel to the northeastern port city of Trincomalee with its ethnically divided population, has been a flashpoint in the war. —Reuters