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Ranil agrees to meet Chandrika

November 11, 2003 19:11 IST

Even as Sri Lanka continues to be in political turmoil, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has agreed to meet his arch rival, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, tomorrow, though he has made it clear that he will only discuss the "damage" she has "inflicted" on the peace process and not her proposal to form a government of national unity.

The prime minister's decision to hold talks with Kumaratunga was announced today by government spokesman G L Pieris as Norwegian peace brokers arrived in the island nation to try and salvage the troubled peace process with rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Wickremesinghe told legislators of his United National Party that the president had "inflicted very considerable damage" on the peace process with her decision last week to sack three key ministers, suspend parliament for two weeks, and briefly invoke a state of emergency.

"Events of the last few days have inflicted very considerable damage on the peace process," Peiris said, quoting the prime minister. "It has been damaged and it has been put in jeopardy.

"We want to discuss remedial action. Regrettable as it may be, the main task is the fragility of the peace process and how to salvage the process," Peiris told reporters in Colombo as Norway's Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen and special adviser Erik Solheim held talks with local politicians.

Justice Minister W J M Lokubandara also said the prime minister had "made it clear that what he will discuss with the president is the state of the peace process and not her offer of a national government".

Lokubandara said the government does not believe that it was necessary for the president to take over the army, police and the state-owned media if she was sincere about a government of national unity.

But the government did not say whether Kumaratunga has accepted the new terms set by the premier.

Meanwhile, official sources said the Norwegian envoys arrived in Colombo on a previously scheduled visit, but are facing a tough new challenge following the political turmoil.

They said the two Norwegians have a hectic schedule during their two-day visit, which was arranged before the turmoil erupted.

The pair was due to meet both Wickremesinghe and Kumaratunga, who, on Friday, wanted to impose new restrictions on the Norwegians.

The two envoys are also scheduled to travel to the northern rebel-held town of Kilinochchi on Thursday to meet LTTE leaders, possibly their chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran, the sources said.

Kumaratunga, who had yesterday invited the prime minister to discuss her offer of a government of national unity as a way out of the power struggle between the two, has been fiercely critical of both Wickremesinghe and the Norwegians, accusing them of being too soft on the rebels. She also rejected the Tigers' blueprint for peace last week.

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