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CBK departs: political crisis deepens
By our Political Editor
President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga made an unannounced exit from Sri Lanka yesterday ruling out any hope of a mutually-agreed co-habitation plan with the UNF Government.

An earlier scheduled President Kumaratunga-Premier Wickremesinghe summit for this purpose did not materialise last Tuesday or the days that followed.

Former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, who played the role of honest broker for this political summit, The Sunday Times learns, could not arrange a mutually-acceptable time despite both leaders being in Kandy last weekend.

On Monday, Mr. Kadirgamar had informed Premier Wickremesinghe that President Kumaratunga would not accept the Premier's proposal for a constitutional amendment to clip her Presidential powers of dissolving Parliament after December 5, 2002. Instead to allay the fears of the UNF coalition, the President was willing to provide the Speaker with a written guarantee that she will not dissolve Parliament other than by the provisions of the Constitution which empowered her to call for elections if no party or coalition parties could command a majority in Parliament.

By Thursday Prime Minister Wickremesinghe telephoned Mr. Kadirgamar stating this suggestion fell short of the UNF Government expectations and that his coalition would press for a constitutional amendment to clip the President's powers.

In moving towards introducing constitutional amendments, this government has made it clear the exercise is a one off move. In other words MPs are being called upon to support only this specific amendment.

The move, the government believes, will not only allow a free vote for PA MPs but also allay fears among Sri Lanka Muslims Congress MPs. Their leader, Rauf Hakeem is said to be opposed to the Conscience Bill, one that would give MPs the right to cross over. However, Mr. Hakeem is said to be in favour of the specific amendment.

A hunt is now on by the UNF to secure support from PA parliamentarians for the passage of the constitutional amendment specifically related to the dissolution of Parliament when a government completes a year in office.

President Kumaratunga left for London on an Emirates flight around 3 a.m. yesterday and her return plans were not known immediately. Presidential Media Director Janadasa Peiris confirmed that President had left for London on a private visit.

The President's departure came as the ongoing conflict between President and the UNF government was reaching its peak posing a threat to the peace talks due to begin in Thailand between September 12 and 17. Despite a broad assurance from President Kumaratunga that she would support the peace process, the PA on Friday hinted that it would not immediately commit itself to support any constitutional amendment which would deal with devolution of power.

"We welcome the peace talks. But beyond that we cannot commit ourselves. We need to know what will be on the agenda - whether core issues will be discussed and whether talks can progress smoothly. We need to know the unit of devolution," PA MP Nimal Siripala de Silva said.

PA spokesman Sarath Amunugama said the party was not being kept informed about the progress of the peace process.

Adding to the confrontational attitude, the PA has started talks with the JVP which has been totally opposed to the peace process and the talks.

"The talks with the JVP are still at a preliminary stage. We are trying to work out a broad consensus," Dr. Amunugama said. In a related development Anura Bandaranaike has invited the Sihala Urumaya which is campaigning against the peace process to join hands with the PA.

The Sihala Urumaya is reported to have placed five conditions to join the coalition. They include a proposal that they do not have faith in peace talks and the LTTE should be militarily weakened.

As a result of the PA-JVP talks, a joint statement due to be issued by the PA on its stand about the peace process also has been shelved. The statement was due to be issued last week.

However the LSSP and the CP have expressed support for the peace talks.
Meanwhile Minister Milinda Moragoda yesterday returned from Norway after talks with LTTE's chief negotiator Anton Balasingham and was due to brief Prime Minister last evening or today.

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