NATIONAL

Chandrika, Ranil to confer on peace process

COLOMBO Oct. 5. Sri Lanka's President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, and the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, will hold regular meetings to review the progress of the peace process.

This decision was taken after the Minister of Economic Reforms, Milinda Moragoda, met Ms. Kumaratunga on Friday to brief her on last month's first round of direct talks between Colombo and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Thailand.

The decision is seen as one of the efforts to keep the talks on track and work towards narrowing the sharp political rivalry between Sri Lanka's two main parties — the ruling United National Party (UNP), led by Mr. Wickremesinghe and the Opposition People's Alliance (PA) led by Ms. Kumaratunga.

At these joint meetings the two leaders will be accompanied by Mr. Moragoda, the Defence Minister, Tilak Marapana, and the senior adviser to the President on Foreign Affairs, Lakshman Kadirgamar.

In addition, the Norwegian envoy in Colombo, Jon Westborg, will brief Ms. Kumaratunga before and after each round of talks on a regular basis.

Friday's decision to hold these joint meetings comes at a time when there is increasing pressure on Colombo to move towards the substantive issues in the negotiations with the Tigers.

Moreover, the UNP and the PA differ in their approaches on resolving the decades-long conflict. The UNP, which came to power on a mandate of talking to the Tigers wants to engage the LTTE in negotiations through a step-by-step approach and is preparing the nation for a long haul. The PA, in contrast, wants the core issues to be addressed at the earliest. Moreover, the two parties are also involved in a troublesome political cohabitation exercise.

Given the need for a southern consensus for any solution to the conflict, the relationship between the two parties is crucial to the outcome of the latest peace process.

Friday's meeting with Mr. Moragoda — who is a key member of the Sri Lankan delegation at the talks — was described by the President as ``the most comprehensive briefing in the past nine months''.

The past months have witnessed a confrontational phase in Sri Lankan politics, with the Cabinet and the President differing on several points.

The latest ground for the differences is a Constitutional amendment proposed by the Cabinet to deprive the President of her powers to dissolve Parliament after it completes a year. The proposed amendment, which was opposed by the President, is now under judicial review.

Against this backdrop, the joint meetings on the peace process could have an assuaging effect on the bipartisan rivalry and possibly safeguard the negotiations from being derailed by political rhetoric.

``This is a mechanism designed for keeping the peace process under review and also for insulating the process from the vagaries of domestic politics,'' Mr. Kadirgamar told The Hindu.

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