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Sri Lanka peace talks in balance

Wickremesinghe has accused the president of plunging the country into chaos.
Wickremesinghe has accused the president of plunging the country into chaos.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- The Sri Lankan Cabinet has said it may ask the country's president to take over responsibility for the island's peace process if she does not reinstate three sacked ministers.

The announcement throws further uncertainly over the future of peace negotiations between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels designed to end two decades of war.

Speaking to reporters Sunday, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that without control of certain key ministries he could not be held responsible for the direction and outcome of peace negotiations.

"If the institutions of defense and media are not in control of the prime minister, the prime minister cannot have responsibility for the peace process," Cabinet spokesman G.L. Pieris said.

Wickremesinghe told ambassadors from the United States and Norway Sunday that the peace process cannot be a "shared responsibility," Pieris said.

He was referring to a power struggle with President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who has accused Wickremesinghe -- a long-standing political rival -- of being too soft and making too many concessions with the Tamil Tigers.

Earlier this week, the president -- who said she is "totally committed to peace" -- asked the armed forces to abide by the Norwegian-led ceasefire with rebels and called for a government of national reconciliation.

She said the peace process with the Tamil Tigers would continue under strict terms.

On Tuesday Kumaratunga sacked three key cabinet ministers, suspended parliament and declared a national state of emergency which she later withdrew.

Power sharing

Wickremesinghe accused the president of deliberately plunging the country into chaos.

The crisis erupted just days after the rebels released their long-awaited proposal on power sharing -- an offer strongly criticized by Kumaratunga's party.

Monitors overseeing the ceasefire in Sri Lanka's civil war say that despite the crisis the peace deal is continuing to hold -- although it may be at risk the longer the government power struggle continues.

Kumaratunga, who heads the main opposition party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), has been at odds with Wickremesinghe since he won parliamentary elections in 2001.

Bitter rivals: Wickremesinghe, left, and Kumaratunga.
Bitter rivals: Wickremesinghe, left, and Kumaratunga.

The SLFP was booted out of power two years ago when Wickremesinghe's United National Front won power on a platform promising to bring an end to years of civil war.

Since then the president and prime minister have been locked in an uneasy constitutional cohabitation.

The United States and Norway are two of the four co-chairs of the peace process, along with Japan and the European Union.

Later Sunday, Wickremesinghe plans to speak over the phone with Japan's special peace envoy to Sri Lanka, Yasushi Akashi.

EU foreign policy chief Chris Patten is expected to arrive in Sri Lanka on November 26.


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