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New blow for Sri Lankan peace pact

From CNN Correspondent Kasra Naji

Kumaratunga has been at odds with the country's prime minister.
Kumaratunga has been at odds with the country's prime minister.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- Sri Lanka's peace process has suffered another blow with President Chandrika Kumaratunga's party formally committing itself to discarding a pact with the Tamil Tiger rebels.

The commitment was made in a newly signed document between the president's Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the hard-line nationalist People Liberation Front, putting the seal on an electoral alliance that signals Kumaratunga may soon call for snap general elections.

"The so-called peace process will not usher in a durable peace but threatens the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of the country, degrading its dignity," the document said.

The peace process has been the brain child of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who heads the rival United National Party.

It has been stalled since November when Kumaratunga used her constitutional powers to take over the process, claiming the government has made too many concessions to the rebels.

Nearly 65,000 people have died in more than 20 years of civil war in Sri Lanka between government forces and the rebels of the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE), who want a homeland for the Tamil minority.

But the document signed Tuesday after lengthy negotiations between the two politcal parties calls for a negotiated settlement through "correct dialogue" with the rebels. "Both parties agree to enter into a process of dialogue with the LTTE and all relevant groups and communities ..."

Kumaratunga and the prime minister have been locked in an uneasy cohabitation arrangement since Wickremesinghe's party won a landslide victory in 2001 elections.

The president's calculation may be that the new alliance will help it win enough seats in the next general elections to make it possible to form a government and force Wickremesinghe out.

The new alliance also raises doubts about the ceasefire that has been in effect for nearly two years -- the longest period of peace in Sri Lanka since the civil war erupted in the early 1980s.

"The Memorandum of Understanding signed by the prime minister did not have the prior approval of the head of state -- the president," the document said referring to the ceasefire agreement.

Speaking after the signing ceremony, the general secretary of the People's Liberation Front, Tilvin Silva said his party had formed the alliance to prevent a plan to divide the country in the name of peace.

The rebels on Monday issued a statement the saying the ceasefire agreement was in imminent danger and called on the international community to help.

Norway, which has been brokering the peace process, has suspended its efforts until it becomes clear who is in charge of the peace process in the capital Colombo -- the prime minister or the president.

The international community has been supportive of the peace process, pledging $4.5 billion towards the reconstruction of the country, if and when a peace process is completed.


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