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Sri Lanka: Political Deadlock Continues as Government Rejects President's Proposal - 2003-11-29

In Sri Lanka, the government has rejected part of a proposal presented by the country's president to resolve political differences. The continuing political deadlock is hampering efforts to resume peace negotiations with Tamil Tiger rebels.

Officials close to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe say the president's proposal to share control of the Defense Ministry is unacceptable.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga took over three ministries, including defense, earlier this month, after complaining that the prime minister was giving too much ground to Tamil rebels in peace negotiations. Her actions triggered a serious power struggle with the prime minister, who refused to carry on the peace process, without control of the crucial Defense Ministry.

President Kumaratunga says the prime minister can appoint a junior defense minister, who would have wide powers to negotiate with the Tigers, but would act under the president. She also proposes to establish what she calls a "Joint Peace Council" that would oversee and manage the overall peace process.

But Prime Minister Wickremesinghe's aides say that is not possible, until he has full command of the Defense Ministry.

The president's plan also calls on Norway to resume the role of peace broker, but Norway says it will wait for the power struggle to be resolved.

Details of the president's power sharing proposals were leaked to the state media on Friday. Government officials say some proposals are acceptable, but not regarding the Defense Ministry.

At the moment, Mr. Wickremesinghe runs the government's day-to-day affairs, but Mrs. Kumaratunga, who heads a different political party, controls the military.

Earlier this week, rebel leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran said that the power struggle between the two leaders was seriously jeopardizing the peace process. He said he was committed to a peaceful solution of the country's two-decade long ethnic conflict, but warned that failure to grant more power to the rebels would force them to resume their struggle for a separate Tamil homeland.

The civil war in Sri Lanka erupted in 1983, and claimed nearly 64,000 lives before a cease-fire was signed last year. The truce is continuing to hold, despite the deadlock in the peace process.