2nd September 2001
Rupavahini chairman and popular actor Sanath
Party positionsPrime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayke on the deal
By Shelani de SilvaIn a midnight move that not only ended two months of political haggling but also gave a new lease of life to a sinking government, the PA on Friday agreed to meet JVP demands and is getting ready to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Marxist party.
Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake sent a letter to the JVP ahead of its Friday midnight deadline that the Government had accepted the JVP proposals for the interim period of one year and a formal reply would be sent after a discussion with the PA Parliamentary Group tonight. The special group meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. at President's House.
The JVP yesterday morning informed the Prime Minister that it welcomed the Government's acceptance of its proposals and called on the Government to display its sincerity by issuing a statement tonight announcing the cancellation of the referendum and the resummoning of Parliament before September 7.
JVP parliamentary group leader Wimal Weerawansa told The Sunday Times the next formality would be to sign the MOU and to set deadlines to implement the proposals.
Mr. Weerawansa said the JVP, which holds ten seats in Parliament, would inform other opposition parties of its stand and the Government's response after all matters were finalised.
JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva told The Sunday Times the Government had only accepted its proposals in principle, but the JVP was yet to see whether the Government would implement them.
"We have given a deadline but if the government can't meet it, we will think of the next course of action. The decision about the voting on the no-confidence motion will also be taken depending on the government's response," he said.
Mr. Silva said the Government assured the JVP that no privatisation deal would be made within one year, specially in the education sector," he said.
The PA-JVP deal was worked out after four hours of discussions where the government side was led by President Chandrika Kumaratunga and included Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, Ministers Mangala Samaraweera and Nimal Siripala de Silva. The JVP team comprised Mr. Silva and Mr. Weerawansa.
The talks which started at 3 p.m. ended inconclusively around 7.30 p.m. with President Kumaratunga telling the JVP delegation that the government's decision would be notified either by writing or by a telephone call by 12 midnight.
Besides the demand for the cancellation of the referendum and the resummoning of Parliament, the JVP also sought the setting up of five independent commissions for elections, police, public service, the judiciary and the state media, the abolition of the executive presidency, slashing of the Cabinet to 20 ministers and writing off of farmer loans.
During an earlier round of talks, President Kumaratunga had reportedly agreed to implement several of the JVP demands but expressed reservations about a media commission, the reduction of the size of the Cabinet and a proposal to hold elections under a caretaker government.
Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickre-manayake last evening addressing an all Island Dhamma school prize giving said that another party's support had been sought to quash a conspiracy by a section in Parliament.
"We will thwart this conspiracy. You will be informed on Monday when
we make a public announcement how we will overcome this situation. As a
person who was part of the discussion, I can't say it, after sitting at
the same table. It has to be announced jointly," Mr. Wickremanayake said
without mentioning the JVP by name. With Friday's midnight move, the government
will now have a 119 votes in Parliament — an absolute majority — and therefore
will be in a strong position to face a series of motions against the government,
a minister and the Chief Justice.
They said the stage and a vehicle belonging to Ms. Ashraff's Coordinating
Secretary M. Ansar, were damaged in the attack. They said the house of
an SLMC supporter was damaged while another was threatened with death by
a group who raided his house. The attack delayed Ms. Ashraff's visit to
Pottuvil where she was to attend a ministerial mobile service.
In a statement the Government said that in terms of this provision, the Civil Aviation authorities would now be able to negotiate with insurance underwriters to reduce or eliminate the war risk surcharge on operating through Katunayake.
Soon after the attack on the airport and Air Force Base at Katunayake, insurance underwriters imposed a heavy war risk surcharge on ships operating through Colombo Port.
After government delegation headed by Ports Minister Ronnie de Mel held talks with London underwriters and agreed to provide a US $ 50 million cover against any risk at the port of Colombo, the war risk surcharge was considerably reduced, the statement pointed out. The additional measure adopted on Friday will bring similar relief to the aviation sector.
Once negotiations on the basis of cover provided by the government for the aviation sector were completed, it would be possible either to drastically reduce or even completely eliminate this surcharge, the statement said.
As a result of airfare increase to and from Colombo due to the additional
surcharge, tourists arrivals to Sri Lanka were further affected, adversely
hitting the tourism industry.
By The Sunday Times Political CorrespondentPeace talks to end the 19-year-long separatist war — the country's most pressing national question — are in limbo after the LTTE this week ruled out any dialogue with the Government.
"The LTTE is not prepared to enter into negotiation with a corrupt, inefficient, unstable Government which does not have a majority in Parliament," declared Anton Balasingham, in an interview with Tamilnet website from London where he lives.
He charged that President Chandrika Kumaratunga had rejected on several occasions the LTTE's call for ceasefire and peace talks.
Dr. Balasingham's remarks were in response to statements Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar made during a news conference last Wednesday but grossly misquoted by some sections of the media, particularly by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) which prides in having a correspondent in Colombo.
The news conference was held to give the Government's side of the story on its failed talks with the UNP to form a government of "consensus."
Mr. Kadirgamar spoke of the Government's efforts to foster a national consensus with the UNP to talk to the LTTE. That was through a joint statement calling on the guerrillas for unconditional talks after bringing offensive operations to an end.
He said the Government regretted the UNP did not extend support. Thereafter Mr. Kadirgamar fielded a volley of questions.
Responding to one of them on whether the Government would now make the offer on its own to the LTTE, he replied the matter was being considered — a remark which quite clearly asserted that no decision, leave alone an offer to the LTTE, has been made.
But some sections of the foreign media reported otherwise.
This is what the BBC said from London: "The Sri Lanka Government said on Wednesday it was ready to agree to a ceasefire with Tigers leading to peace negotiations" — a far cry from what Mr. Kadirgamar said.
If Dr. Balasingham's remarks have put paid to any future peace initiatives, and now focused attention on the battlefront, there were more firm indications last night that the Government itself would not go ahead with the peace moves as a result of its decision to form a probationary Government with the JVP.
The Sunday Times learns the JVP has obtained an express understanding from the Government that it should not introduce any devolution package for one year. A devolution package was the Government's main instrument of sharing power to end the prolonged ethnic conflict.
JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva told The Sunday Times last night "if the Government wants to talk to the LTTE, it must first ensure the LTTE makes a public declaration denouncing its demand for a separate state of Eelam."
In the event of peace talks being held, Mr. Silva said, it would have to be after a committee of responsible citizens from different backgrounds work out a proposal. Thereafter a public consensus would have to be worked out taking people's views into consideration, Mr. Silva added.
The JVP's declared official position rules out any talks with the LTTE for at least a year.
The move is in marked contrast to what transpired at Friday's National Security Council where top rung military leaders declared they had no objections to the Government talking to the LTTE. Among those who expressed this view were Chief of Defence Staff, General Rohan de. S. Daluwatte and Commander of the Air Force, Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody.
Far from expecting peace talks, the country's senior military leaders would now have to not only review their battle plans but also ensure defensive strategies to prevent any LTTE attacks on hand.
The new developments also put paid to efforts by the international community and local business leaders to pressure the Government to negotiate with the LTTE.
This has also set a new poser to the Government — whether Foreign Minister Kadirgamar would go ahead with his plans to call upon Norway to resume its peace initiatives. Such a move may run counter to the PA-JVP deal.
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