Wed, Jun 08, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Sri Lankan monks warn president on Tamil tsunami deal

SHAKY COALITION The Tamil Tigers' pending aid deal with the president angered a powerful monks' organization as well as the government's political allies


Sri Lanka's influential Buddhist monks yesterday vowed to end Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga's political career if she enters into an aid-sharing deal with Tamil rebels, amid fears for her shaky coalition.

The National Monks' Front said it would launch a campaign to drum up public support against Kumaratunga's plans for a joint mechanism with Tamil Tiger guerrillas to distribute tsunami aid in the island's embattled northeast.

"We will first start with a protest and then extend it to a death fast from the weekend unless the president withdraws her decision," the front's secretary, Kalawelgala Chandraloka, told reporters. "If the president goes ahead, we will ensure that it will be the end of her political career. We will make sure that no one accepts her as a political leader in this country."

The monks wield considerable influence over the island's Buddhist majority, who account for 69 percent of the country's 19.5 million population.

The front is closely linked to the Marxist JVP, or People's Liberation Front, a key member of Kumaratunga's ruling coalition which is also bitterly opposed to any accommodation with the Tigers.

Press reports here quoted JVP leader Lal Kantha saying that they would quit the government the moment Kumaratunga signed on for the proposed joint mechanism, officially known as the "North and East Tsunami Relief Board."

An advertisement issued in the name of the Board says a well-structured administrative mechanism is needed to fast-track rebuilding in the northeast, one of the worst affected areas.

"Let's stop the debate and decide to move forward," the advertisement urged. "The hope of tens of thousands of children depend on this."

However, presidential spokesman Harim Peiris said the Board had yet to be established and that the advertisement was part of an awareness campaign.

International donors have called for a joint mechanism that would ensure tsunami aid is distributed equitably in rebel-held and government areas. Several countries, including Japan and the US, have laws prohibiting direct aid to the Tigers.

Some 31,000 Sri Lankans were killed in the Dec. 26 tsunami and 1 million people were left homeless. Much of the destruction was wrought in the northeast, parts of which are dominated by the Tamil guerrillas.

The aid deal is expected to bring the government and rebels into close cooperation on rebuilding, including areas devastated by decades of civil war that claimed over 60,000 lives between 1972 and 2002.

The rebels have said they are willing to agree to the aid deal with the government and blame Colombo for the delay.

Norway yesterday sent its chief peace envoy, Hans Brattskar, to the rebel-held north of the island for talks with the guerrillas, official sources said.

Details of the talks were not immediately known but it came as another group of monks continued a protest campaign begun in the central town of Kandy.

Buddhist monks have nine seats in the 225-member assembly where Kumaratunga's Freedom Alliance coalition has only a slender five-seat majority. The Freedom Alliance includes 39 JVP legislators.

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