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Sri Lanka Political Crisis Still Unresolved - 2003-12-11

In Sri Lanka, the prime minister and president have failed to end a month-old power struggle that is threatening a peace process with Tamil rebels.

Cabinet spokesman G.L. Peiris says the latest meeting between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Chandrika Kumaratunga produced no agreement on how to resolve the political deadlock in the country.

Jehan Perera, a political analyst at Colombo's National Peace Council, says there is a ground swell of concern that the power struggle will halt the peace process.

"Civil society organizations, NGOs, religious leaders - all of them are saying uniformly that they want the president and prime minister to work together to resolve the ethnic conflict," he said. "They want the peace process to go forward, because these last two years [of cease-fire] have been marvelous, compared to 20-years of war."

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe held a two-hour, closed door meeting with the president on Wednesday to talk over their differences about negotiations with the Tamil rebels.

The political crisis erupted in early November, when President Kumaratunga took control of three ministries, including defense, after accusing the prime minister of making too many concessions to the rebels.

The stalemate centers on which leader will control the Defense Ministry. The prime minister says he will not pursue peace talks without control over security, and the president said this week she has no intention of handing over defense responsibilities.

The two leaders have set December 15 as a deadline to fix the crisis. They belong to separate political parties, and are arch political rivals.

The government and Tamil rebels entered a cease-fire nearly two-years ago, and the truce continues to hold, although peace talks are stalled.

While the talks are stalled, uncertainty grows, and the government says this uncertainty is adversely affecting the economy.

According to Cabinet spokesman Peiris, foreign investors are withholding millions of dollars in investment, while they wait and watch the political situation.

The rebels are also warning that they will resume their separatist struggle, if Sri Lanka's political leaders do not start talking to them about their demands for more autonomy in Tamil-controlled areas.

Tamil Tigers began fighting in 1983 for a separate Tamil homeland in the north and the east, but agreed to settle for autonomy in talks held last year.