Sun, Nov 30, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Sri Lankan president offers rival defense post

REUTERS , COLOMBO

Sri Lanka's president has offered her rival prime minister a role in the Defence Ministry, state media reported yesterday, but the government said her proposal had only complicated efforts to resolve the political crisis.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga fired the defence, interior and media ministers in early November. She accused the prime minister of compromising security by conceding too much in his efforts to end 20 years of war with Tamil Tiger rebels, who are seeking a separate state in the north and east.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe -- who was elected separately and from a rival party -- responded by saying he could not carry on the peace process without control over those portfolios.

"The prime minister will nominate to the president a suitable candidate who can work cordially with the president for the post of Minister Assisting Defence," said Kumaratunga's proposal, published in the state-run Daily News.

But a government official who is part of a committee the two sides established to try to resolve their power struggle expressed confusion over the offer.

"We [the committee] had agreed on a different formula to which both the president and prime minister had agreed," said Malik Samarawickreme, chairman of Wickremesinghe's United National Party.

"We were looking forward to going forward with that -- we just had to work out the details. But this is something totally new," he said.

He would not comment on the nature of the proposal the committee had agreed.

Kumaratunga's blueprint also said Wickremesinghe should remain in charge of the peace bid -- which has been thrown into limbo by their feud -- but proposed a Joint Peace Council to be co-chaired by the two to "oversee and manage the overall peace process."

Norway, which brokered a truce holding since February last year, suspended its role until it was clear who was handling the process, but the president's proposal said Oslo should continue to act as peace broker.

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