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Chandrika calls for political unity to solve conflict

By V.S. Sambandan

COLOMBO Nov. 9. The Sri Lankan President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, today said the Constitutional steps taken by her to take over Defence, Interior and Mass Communications portfolios were in the ``larger interest of the entire nation'', and called for political unity to solve decades-long separatist conflict.

In an interview to The Hindu, Ms. Kumaratunga also said the counter-proposals submitted by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ``can come only within the constitution of a separate state''.

Refuting charges that she had exercised her Constitutional powers to strike political gains or to scuttle the peace process initiated by the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Ms. Kumaratunga said: ``If I had wanted to sabotage, I should have done it a 100 times in the last two years''.

However, as she had told Mr. Wickremesinghe that she would ``not sabotage'' his peace process, Ms. Kumaratunga said she ``waited and watched for a long time'' before taking over the portfolios of the Defence, Interior and Mass Communication on November 4. The President said she could not have kept watching the situation ``without being treacherous to the nation''.

``I think it will be very unfair to say that I did this to get power, as some people are saying, or to sabotage the peace process''.

Asked for her view if there were any parts of the LTTE's counter proposals that could be discussed at all, Ms. Kumaratunga said: ``My principle, some people in my party don't agree with me, but my principle, very frankly, is that even the most unacceptable position of your adversary can be a basis to begin discussions''.

However, she said, ``that does not mean that we can accept or pretend to accept the proposals''. The LTTE's counter-proposals, ``as they are, unless they are willing to amend them during negotiations, cannot come within the constitution of any country in the world because it is asking for another state. They can only come within the constitution of a separate state'', the President said.

Emphasising the importance of a coming together of political parties, Ms. Kumaratunga said ``whatever one may think of one another, have to get together if we have to resolve this issue''.

Asked about the fundamental contradictions on devolution of powers in the proposed alliance between her party and the Left-radical Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, Ms. Kumaratunga said: ``If we come to an alliance it will be based on some agreement, whatever may be written down in documents, that the devolution process will go on, if we come into government some day''.On what she considered the starting point to break the present constitutional lock and move ahead in the island's peace process, Ms. Kumaratunga said: ``I still feel the 1997 (draft constitution) proposals were the best and we could go back to them''.Those proposals — more than the 2000 draft constitution, which she described as a ``watered down'' version of the 1997 draft because of ``the strict insistence of the then Opposition United National Party'' — was ``much better'' than the present Government's proposals, she said.The Tamil United Liberation Front, she pointed out, was ``very happy about the 1997 proposals'', but had walked out from the diluted 2000 Draft Constitution.

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