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SLMC leader Rauf  Hakeem after he was sacked from
the cabinet attended prayers at the Jawatte Mosque
on Wednesday and visited the adjoining burial grounds
to pray at the grave of party founder M. H. M. Ashraff,  
Pic by Ranjith Perera.

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CBK, Ranil discuss LTTE demands

By Our Political Editor
President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Opposition UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe on Friday discussed possibilities of reaching consensus on some crucial issues that need to be resolved before peace talks with the LTTE.

Main among them, the LTTE demand for de-proscription, the lifting of trade sanctions to guerrilla-dominated areas and the cessation of hostilities figured in detail during two hours of talks at Janadhipathi Mandiraya. Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake who brokered the meeting and Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar who is personally handling the peace negotiations for the government were in attendance.

As Mr. Wickremesinghe was locked in discussion with President Kumaratunga, other UNP leaders met Parliament's Secretary General Dhammika Kitulgoda to hand over the no-confidence motion against the government.

Mr. Wickremesinghe told The Sunday Times he assured the President that the no-confidence motion would in no way obstruct the government's pursuit of peace through negotiations. He had, during his recent discussions with Norwegian, Indian, US and western leaders told them that the opposition would "insulate" the peace process from the party politics of the rest of the country.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said he had advised President Kumaratunga to seek a definitive list of demands from the LTTE before embarking on peace talks, and see which ones could be granted, and which could not.

He said what had happened now was that the LTTE which had the lifting of the ban as a minor demand, upped the stakes after the British government banned it in March, this year. The LTTE's new demand had taken both the Norwegian facilitators and the Sri Lankan government by surprise.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said he believed that the Sri Lanka government should contact the Indian, British and US governments and ask them for their views on whether Colombo should lift the ban "to get the talks going", while allowing those foreign governments that had banned the LTTE to retain the ban.

PA leaders are of the view that a deproscription of the LTTE, if at all, should be made when direct talks get underway.

Government sources said President Kumaratunga had suggested a joint statement to be issued by the government and the opposition to indicate that party politics where the opposition was seriously pushing to defeat the government in Parliament was not interfering with the peace process with the LTTE.

During the past few weeks, the UNP's constitutional expert K.N. Choksy has been meeting Mr. Kadirgamar and President Kumaratunga with a view to bringing about common ground between the two main parties in the country in dealing with the LTTE.

Contrary to speculation, the Kumaratunga -Wickremesinghe talks centred largely on matters relating to the peace initiatives.

Four years ago the government and the UNP signed what was known as the Liam Fox agreement where the government would keep the opposition leader informed of developments in relation to dealings with the LTTE, and where the opposition leader agreed to abide by any decision the government reached with the LTTE if it were to come to office, if such agreement had the approval of the opposition.

That agreement was brokered by then Deputy British Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary Liam Fox but had been largely operated in the breach as sharp differences and bitter rivalry ensued between the government and the opposition in the intervening years.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said he had not yet consented to a joint statement, and it was possible that the government and the opposition issued separate statements. He said he would go into the matter on his return on Saturday evening from a tour of Kurunegala.


Gone with the storm

At least 21 government positions have fallen vacant as a result of the resignations of SLMC top brass after Minister Rauf Hakeem was sacked from the cabinet.

Nine heads of state institutions quit their posts. They were State Water Board Chairman M. L. A. M. Hisbullah, Trading Corporation Chairman M.J.M. Muzammil, Fair Trading Commission Chairman T.K. Azoor, Sri Lanka Export Credit Insurance Corporation Chairman. S. Zubahideen, Rehabilitation Authority Chairman M.I. M. Rafeek, National Housing Development Authority Chairman Asitha Perera and Ingrin Printing Institute Chairman Farook Majeed, Ports Services Limited, Chairman S.S. Tajudeen and Ceylon Shipping Corporation Executive Director Abul Kalam. 

SLMC officials said ambassadors I. Kurdoos in Kuwait and H.M. Farook in Kenya had also been told to resign but their resignations had not been sent until yesterday.


72-hour ultimatum to Ferial, SLMC rebels

By Nilika de Silva and Faraza Farook 
The rift between Muslim leaders Rauf Hakeem and Ferial Ashraff reached breaking point yesterday when the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress at an emergency politburo meeting decided to give a 72-hour ultimatum to Ferial Ashraff and three other MPs to quit the government or face expulsion from the party.

Adding insult to the ultimatum, the SLMC politburo which met at party headquarters in the aftermath of tumultuous political events also resolved that the Ferial Ashraff-led National Unity Alliance was not a political entity of its own and should abide by the decision of the SLMC to quit the government.

The conflict in the SLMC/NUA and the dispute with the government erupted on Wednesday when President Chandrika Kumaratunga in a shock move sacked Minister Hakeem from the cabinet to set off political fireworks. Mr. Hakeem responded immediately with the SLMC/NUA parliamentary group deciding that its members should resign from all their posts in the government. 

Ms. Ashraff and three MPs loyal to her agreed to the collective decision of the SLMC. Ms. Ashraff sent her letter of resignation from her cabinet portfolios but she has insisted she will stay on with the government.

Before getting the warning from the SLMC yesterday, Ms. Ashraff told The Sunday Times in an interview she was left with no option but to carve her own niche. She said that five months had passed since she voluntarily handed over the SLMC leadership to Mr. Hakeem, but so far she had been offered little or nothing in the party. The SLMC politburo said yesterday she had been offered the post of chairperson of the party, and she should accept it. But Ms. Ashraff is earlier reported to have said she was not interested in a sop or a ceremonial post.

Ms. Ashraff, known to be having the backing and blessings of President Kumaratunga and thereby getting wide coverage in the state media, said she would not support the motion of no-confidence to defeat the government. Reacting to Ms. Ashraff's claim, Mr. Hakeem said it was she who had provoked the crisis by calling a special meeting of NUA recently without informing him. 

He insisted that NUA heavyweight M. L. A. M. Hisbullah known to be a key Ferial Ashraff loyalist would not be readmitted to the SLMC high command, whatever intimidatory tactics he might try. He was apparently referring to last week's demonstration outside his residence allegedly orchestrated by Mr. Hisbullah. 

Mr. Hisbullah charged yesterday that Mr. Hakeem's problem was that he feared a challenge to his leadership. 


Big push for the putsch

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Opposition parties are pushing for an early date to take up the motion of the no-confidence against the government, party sources said.

They said they hoped the motion which was presented on Friday could be taken up next month. At a party leaders' meeting on Friday it was agreed that the earlier motion for the removal of Minister Mahipala Herath would be taken up on July 18. 

But the sources said they would now try to get the no-faith motion against the government itself to be taken up before the motion on the minister. 


Where will JVP sway?

By Shelani de Silva
The JVP which controls ten crucial seats in a cliffhanger parliament went into a marathon emergency meeting yesterday to take what could be a make or break decision.

With the PA government losing its majority in Parliament after the crossover of seven SLMC MPs, the JVP's decision on the upcoming no-confidence motion could swing the balance.

Party propaganda secretary Wimal Weerawansa said yesterday the special central committee meeting could go on for several hours amidst reports that diverse views had emerged among JVP frontliners. Except for that comment JVP sources were tight lipped about what was going on and even the location of the crucial meeting was kept a secret.

The Sunday Times learns the meeting was being attended by 33 central committee members including 10 MPs. Unofficial discussions among members reportedly took place from 9.00 a.m. yesterday though the meeting as such started at 3.00 p.m. and was going on beyond 9.00 p.m.

Until last Wednesday's dramatic developments and the SLMC crossover, indications were that the JVP would join other opposition parties in the move to defeat the government. But the situation changed when the UNP worked out a memorandum of understanding with the SLMC, reportedly promising among other things to give a positive response on the setting up of a separate administrative district in Kalmunai.

The JVP which has been at odds with the SLMC and other minority groups then went into a review of its position with some party sources indicating they might give conditional support to the PA government to reject what they see as extremist demands from minority parties.

UNP leaders are known to have been quoting the JVP in recent weeks with opposition chief whip W. J. M. Lokubandara saying on Friday he was confident the JVP would back the no-confidence motion.

But during the past few days government leaders also are reported to have sounded out the JVP on some kind of political deal between the two parties.

Meanwhile the Ven. Rambkwelle Sri Vipassi Mhanayake Thera of the Malwatte Chapter told The Sunday Times yesterday he would advise the JVP to study the situation carefully and take a decision in greater inetrest of the country. JVP leaders were expected to visit Kandy today and meet the Mahanayake. 

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