Today's Paper

Sri Lankan Cabinet wants Ministers' portfolios restored

COLOMBO Nov. 6. Sri Lanka's political standoff continued for the third day today with the Cabinet asking the President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, to restore to the Ministers the three sensitive portfolios taken over by her and "immediately reconvene" Parliament and Ms. Kumaratunga assuring the nation that the steps were "in the greater interest" of the nation's "sovereignty and security".

The President's office said the United National Front Government, headed by the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, "will continue negotiations" with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

"The President is committed to the continuity of the ceasefire agreement and to keep open the channel of communication with the LTTE and to a negotiated settlement within a united country," a Presidential Secretariat statement said.

"The UNF Government will continue to negotiate with the LTTE and will be guided and supported in its quest for a negotiated settlement of the decades-long separatist crisis," it said.

A sense of uncertainty has descended on the peace process after President Kumaratunga took over the Defence, Interior and Mass Communication portfolios on Tuesday.

The Cabinet, which is awaiting the Prime Minister's return from the U.S. tomorrow, criticised the emergency orders as "short-sighted and directed by narrow political considerations" and wanted all the orders passed by the President in the last two days reversed.

The Cabinet, which met yesterday, also expressed its "firm opinion" that "any change in the portfolios and subjects should not be made by the President without prior consultation with the Prime Minister, as per the written advice of the Attorney-General''.

It "disapproved" of the President's action when the Prime Minister was away and said such steps would have "detrimental effects on the peace process and the economy".

Peace and normality prevailed in the island nation in the last two days, including the northern Jaffna peninsula. The President said there was "no cause for alarm or panic".

Ms. Kumaratunga assured industry leaders that her decision was taken "after careful thought", to ensure "national security and thereby increasing investor confidence".

According to reports from northern Sri Lanka, the LTTE has commenced a phased withdrawal of its cadres from the Government-controlled north and east over the last two days.

After stating that it was watching the situation and that a decision "would be taken by its leadership", the rebels have not commented on the political developments.

Another report

on Page 11