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Ranil Govt. says it is no longer in a position to deal with peace process

By V.S. Sambandan

COLOMBO NOV. 9. The Sri Lankan Government today said it was "not in a position to deal with the peace process'' and held the view that the President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, could "be asked to carry on with the peace process.''

In an announcement that extends the island's recent political standoff on the peace process, the Cabinet spokesman, G.L. Peiris, today said the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, would tell the main international backers of the peace process that he would not be able to continue with his attempt to find peace with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as it would "not be possible to accept responsibility'' without having control over the Defence and Media portfolios.

The Prime Minister would brief Norway, the U.S., Japan, and the E.U. who were the main international backers of the peace process as well as India on his position, Prof. Peiris said.

Today's stand reflects an `all-or-nothing' approach adopted by the Cabinet on the peace process, in its political standoff against the President, Ms. Kumaratunga.

On November 4, the President, exercising her constitutional powers, took over the portfolios of Defence, Interior and Mass Communication and prorogued Parliament till November 19.

The move, Prof. Peiris said, had led to "some degree of truncation and emasculation'' and would have a bearing on the conduct of the peace process.

Meanwhile, the former Defence Minister, Tilak Marapana, denied charges by the President that he had compromised the island's security during the peace process. Neither he, nor the Government "has ever taken'' any important Defence decision "without first consulting and discussing the issues involved with the President'', Mr. Marapana, who now retains the Transport portfolio said.

He termed as "absolutely incorrect'', the President's "allegation'' that he had "given instructions to release six shipments of arms brought into the country.''

To the contrary, he had given "clear instructions'' that the Navy should "seek and, if necessary, destroy any vessel bringing in arms or warlike material to Sri Lanka,'' Mr. Marapana said.

The former Defence Minister denied charges that new LTTE camps had come up south of Trincomalee; that the naval and air fleet were improperly maintained and that the island's armoury had run short of ammunition.

Prof. Peiris pointed out that the Prime Minister has been handling it for the past 21 months and it was he who has the ``resounding public mandate to do it.''

Chandrika refutes charges

The Sri Lankan President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, refuted 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.

``If I had wanted to sabotage, I should have done it a 100 times in the last two years,'' Ms. Kumaratunga told The Hindu in an interview.

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 Ministers on November 4. The President said she could not have kept watching the situation ``without being treacherous to the nation''.

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