Chandrika invites Ranil for talks

COLOMBO Nov. 10. The Sri Lankan President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, today invited the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, to discuss her recent proposal to form a national government.

"In view of the current political situation in the country and my proposal last week to form a government of reconstruction and reconciliation, I would like to meet you in order to discuss your view on this matter," Ms. Kumaratunga said in her letter to Mr. Wickremesinghe — the first formal communication between the two during a week-long standoff.

Ms. Kumaratunga offered Mr. Wickremesinghe a choice of three days — Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday — for the meeting and suggested that he could "consider bringing a small delegation" of senior members of his party for the parleys.

According to Presidential secretariat sources, Ms. Kumaratunga will also hold meetings with other parliamentary parties during the week.

The President's invitation to Mr. Wickremesinghe was sent hours after the Cabinet wanted the President to either "assume full control" of the peace process, or restore three Ministerial portfolios taken over by her last Tuesday, sparking the political standoff.

The Cabinet termed the November 4 decision of the President to take control over the Ministries of Defence, Interior and Mass Communication and prorogue Parliament a "surprising sequence of events, which is bound to place a fragile process in potential jeopardy".

Ms. Kumaratunga's assertion of constitutional powers on November 4 was followed by a show of strength by the ruling United National Party on November 7 when it organised a rousing reception to Mr. Wickremesinghe, who returned from an official visit to the United States.

Maintaining that the Ministries be restored, the Cabinet today unanimously pushed the case for restoration of its full control over governance.

The Cabinet did not directly respond to the President's call for a national government, but reiterating yesterday's demand for complete control over governance, it said as "proposals pertaining to cohabitation" had the "basic objective" of protecting and promoting the peace process, "fundamental issues in respect of responsibility for the process must be resolved at the threshold before other issues are resolved".

Facilitators arrive

Though the peace process to the backseat by the current political spat, two key facilitators, Norway's Deputy Foreign Minister, Vidar Helgesen, and Special Envoy, Erik Solheim, are scheduled to arrive here later tonight.

They are scheduled to meet Ms. Kumaratunga, Mr. Wickremesinghe, Tamil political leaders and representatives of civil society in Colombo. The two will also travel to rebel-held Kilinochchi before concluding their visit on Thursday. Before the political standoff began, the facilitators had been requested to work out dates for preliminary discussions between the Government and the LTTE.

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