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Sri Lanka Deploys Troops in Colombo After Rejecting Tamil Peace Bid - 2003-11-04

The president of Sri Lanka has suspended parliament and deployed troops at key installations in the capital, after sacking three government ministers involved in the peace process with Tamil rebels. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has accused the president of trying to plunge the country into chaos.

The Sri Lanka Army has moved troops to guard state radio and television stations, printing facilities, and the main power plant in the capital Colombo.

Army spokesman Sumedha Perera says the deployment is to prevent "disturbances."

Earlier, President Chandrika Kumaratunga took the surprise step of suspending parliament for two weeks and firing Sri Lanka's defense minister, Tilak Marapana; information minister, Imtiaz Bakeer Markar; and interior minister, John Maratunga, citing security concerns.

The three ministers had spearheaded the peace process with Tamil rebels. The president relieved the ministers after her party rejected a new proposal by the rebels for an interim administration in the war-torn north and east.

President Kumaratunga has been at odds with her arch political rival, Prime Minister Ranil Wicremesinghe, over Norwegian-mediated negotiations with the rebels. She has accused his government of making too many concessions since peace talks began last year.

The president, who has the power to fire the government and take charge of the armed forces and internal security, did so while the prime minister is in Washington, where he got support for his peace efforts.

In a statement issued by his office in Colombo, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said the presidents actions were aimed at plunging the country into chaos and anarchy. He vowed not to deviate from the path of peace and security by the president's "irresponsible" actions.

But political analyst Jehan Perera with Colombo's National Peace Council, says the president's move will throw the country into political turmoil.

"There is a threat there could be violence too. Now the president has taken over the powers of the interior ministry as well as the defense ministry - the Army," he said. "With these coercive arms of the government in her hand she might wish to confront the government."

Meanwhile, the pro-rebel TamilNet website said the president's actions had dimmed prospects for peace, and said the status of a nearly two-year ceasefire had become uncertain.

Tamil rebels began fighting in 1983 for a separate homeland, but said last year they are willing to settle for autonomy.