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US Urges Sri Lanka Leaders to Work Together to Advance Peace Process - 2003-11-04

The United States is urging Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinge to work together to advance the peace process with Tamil rebels. A long-running dispute between the two political leaders flared anew Tuesday while Mr. Wickremesinge was visiting Washington.

Ms. Kumaratunga's decision to suspend parliament and dismiss key cabinet members drew angry criticism in Washington from the Prime Minister, Mr. Wickremesinghe, and left Bush administration officials caught in the cross-fire between the two Sri Lankan political rivals.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli appealed for a political truce between the two leaders so they can work together to resolve the 20-year-old conflict between the government in Colombo and Tamil Tiger rebels. "We urge the president and prime minister to work together and bolster the peace process and to protect Sri Lanka's democratic institutions. We are concerned that these events could have a negative effect on the peace process and talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam. And we stand firmly behind the government of Sri Lanka in its search for peace after 20 years of bloody conflict," he said.

The developments in Colombo, including the deployment of troops in the capital by Ms. Kumaratunga, came only hours after a meeting Monday between Mr. Wickremesinghe and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, the administration's point-man for Sri Lanka policy.

The visiting prime minister, who has repeatedly clashed with Ms. Kumaratunga over the handling of the conflict, issued a statement here accusing the president of pushing the country into crisis and sabotaging the Norwegian-led peace efforts.

Asked about the political clash, spokesman Ereli said multi-party democracy involves public officials of different parties working together for the common interest, and said he hoped the Sri Lankan leaders will act in that spirit.

He welcomed the news that the Sri Lankan prime minister would not break off his Washington visit and will go ahead with a schedule that includes a meeting with President Bush Wednesday.