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CBK faces split over JVP, talks again
By Harinda Vidanage
President Chandrika Kumaratunga has consented to the resumption of talks with the JVP in an apparent move to prevent a split in her own party and avoid the JVP gaining the upper hand by forming a broad opposition coalition with some of her own members of the alliance.

The move came as some 6,000 people joined a JVP-spearheaded 117 kilometre protest march from Kandy. The marchers included some of the SLFP stalwarts such as former Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, Mangala Samaraweera, Sarath Amunugama, Mervyn Silva, Dilan Perera, Arjuna Ranatunga, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Janaka Bandara Tennakoon, Mahipala Herath, Tissa Karaliyadda and Vijithamuni Soysa.

President Kumaratunga was virtually forced to allow her party members take part in the JVP-led National Patriotic Movement (NPM) which is seen as the broad alliance of the JVP after the talks with the SLFP collapsed two weeks ago. Mr. Wickremenayake speaking before the march began opposite the Dalada Maligawa called on all opposition parties to unite in fighting what he saw as the 'betrayal of the country'.

Despite President Kumaratunga on Friday night naming a five-member negotiating committee to open talks with the JVP following protests from her own party members that they should revive talks with the Marxist party, the JVP appeared to be unhappy with the nominations. The five-member committee appointed to resume negotiations with the JVP will be headed by SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena and includes Sarath Amunugama, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Susil Premajayanth, Arjuna Ranatunga and Tudor Dayaratne.

Dr. Amunugama and Mr. de Silva were the only members of the previous negotiating team to be included in the new team. JVP propaganda secretary Wimal Weerawansa told The Sunday Times his party had not been officially notified of the appointment of Maithripala Sirisena as the head of a new committee to start negotiations with them.

However, unofficially the JVP has expressed displeasure at the new committee as it believes that Dr Amunugama is the only person supporting an alliance with the JVP while two of the members are opposed to the alliance.

President Kumaratunga at last week's SLFP central committee meeting warned that disciplinary action would be initiated against the party members taking part in the protest march, but later changed her position and allowed members to take part in the event which includes a major rally in the SLFP stronghold of Nittambuwa.
According to SLFP sources, President Kumaratunga had come under severe pressure from various quarters to resume negotiations with the JVP.

This became clear at the SLFP central committee meeting where many MPs and organisers spoke in favour of a broader alliance including the JVP. The JVP's speedy decision to form a broad alliance by absorbing nationalist elements and intellectuals to form the DJV or Desha Hitaishi Jatika Viyaparaya has been another reason for the change of President's position.

After President Kumaratunga's decision to ban SLFP party members taking part in the DJV protest rally, the SLFP Sinhala MP group had pledged its support to Ven Elle Gunawansa Thera, a joint convenor of the protest and assured him that they would take part in the campaign.

President Kumaratunga was tipped off by Mangala Samaraweera of the meeting between the SLFP Sinhala MPs group and Ven Elle Gunawansa Thera, influencing her decision to change her position about the original ban.

Meanwhile Anura Bandaranike who was earlier this week due to address a joint press conference with the JVP regarding the protest march was advised to keep away from the conference to avoid responding to question about the SLFP position or a variety of issues including the JVP demand that talks between the two sides could be revived if the SLFP drops its position that devolution was a solution to the ethnic conflict.

However, Mr. Bandaranaike is said to be working behind the scene in promoting the fresh round of talks with the JVP. Also the November plan of the SLFP to take over the government had highlighted the need of the JVP support in the number accumulation. The SLFP number plan includes 77 from its own party, 16 from the JVP, five from the SLMC, two from the EPDP, and one from the PLOTE. In addition President Kumaratunga is reported to have had held separate discussions with 23 UNP MPs who, the SLFP sources claim, had pledged their support to form a government.

They claimed that CWC leader Arumugam Thondaman had also pledged his support if the SLFP succeeds in securing 112 seats in Parliament. Meanwhile, the JVP is increasing its demands to the SLFP in resuming the negotiations. They have already said that they do not need unnecessary extended discussions rounds and want to finish this fresh bid in two sessions.

Meanwhile the protest march which reached Mawanella last evening will start its second lap to Warakapola today and reach Colombo on October 1.

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