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Sri Lankan PM, President to Meet to Discuss Political Crisis

Sri Lanka's prime minister says he will meet with his staunchest political rival, the president, in their first face-to-face discussions since the country was plunged into political turmoil last week. The decision comes as Norwegian peace envoys meet with officials monitoring the ceasefire between government forces and the Tamil rebels.

A spokesman for the prime minister says Ranil Wickremesinghe will meet with President Chandrika Kumaratunga on Wednesday to discuss ways to resolve Sri Lanka's political crisis. He declined to give any details of the proposed talks, which come at the request of the president.

The decision on talks came as two Norwegian officials meet with European officials who are monitoring Sri Lanka's ceasefire with the Tamil Tiger guerrilla group. Norway brokered talks between the government and the rebels aimed at ending nearly 20 years of bloodshed.

On his arrival in Colombo late Monday, Norway's special envoy Erik Solheim said it is too soon to tell how the peace process will be affected by the nation's political crisis. "I think it's too early to say what the implications of the recent developments will be for the peace process," he said. "At this stage I think there's a lot of rumor, a lot of discussions, a lot of uncertainty."

The visit was planned before the crisis erupted. The Norwegians hope to arrange the first talks between the Tamils and the government since the rebels walked out of negotiations in April.

Although the government said Monday that the peace process was indefinitely delayed, Mr. Solheim says nothing had been decided yet. "This might mean a postponement in the resumption of talks. But we'll have to go into that discussion more closely with both parties."

The rivalry between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mr. Wickremesinghe intensified last week when the president took over three government ministries - including defense, and suspended parliament. Ms. Kumaratunga says the prime minister has been too lenient in talks with the Tamil Tigers - whom she says pose a threat to national security. Her takeover of the defense ministry prompted concerns that the peace process might collapse.

Norway brokered a ceasefire deal in 2002 between the government and the rebels. Last week, the rebel group unveiled a plan for taking over much of the administration of Tamil-majority areas of the country - a key step toward resuming direct negotiations.

Ms. Kumaratunga says she is in favor of continued negotiations with the rebels. She has called for the prime minister to join her in a government of "national reconciliation" to put the peace process back on track.