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Sri Lankan PM accepts talks offer
( 2003-11-11 15:25) (CNN.com)

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has accepted an offer from the country's president for talks aimed at ending a bitter political power struggle between the two.

Wickremesinghe will meet with President Chandrika Kumaratunga on Wednesday, cabinet spokesman G.L. Peiris told reporters on Tuesday.

Sri Lanka was plunged into a political crisis last week when Kumaratunga -- who has accused her rival Wickremesinghe of making too many concessions with Tamil rebels during peace efforts -- sacked three key government ministers, took control of state media and suspended parliament while the prime minister was abroad.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghechaired a meeting of his United National Party Nov. 11, 2003.
But she has maintained that she has no plans to resume hostilities with the rebels -- formally known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Saying she was "totally committed to peace", Kumaratunga last week asked the armed forces to abide by the current cease-fire with the rebels and called for "a government of national reconciliation."

However, the political storm has already put peace talks with the government and rebels at risk.

Government spokesman G. L. Peiris announced that direct talks with the LTTE had been postponed for now.

"It seems to us we have to sort out some of these matters before we plunge into a meeting with the LTTE," he said after a cabinet meeting on Monday.

Norwegian visit

A Norwegian-brokered cease fire has been in force since February last year, but peace talks stalled in April 2003.

The LTTE have been fighting for 20 years for a separate state in the country's north and east for the Sri Lanka's Tamil minority. More than 60,000 people have been killed in the civil war.

The current political crisis has overshadowed a visit by Norway's deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen and peace envoy Erik Solheim.

They arrived in Colombo on Monday for meetings with the government and the rebels on the peace process.

They are also set to meet with Kumaratunga, according to a statement from the Norwegian embassy.

In other developments, the Sri Lankan government on Monday upped the ante, announcing it was ready for snap elections as a means to end the power struggle if the crisis forced the dissolution of parliament.

Wickremsinghe's cabinet met and endorsed a decision to ask the president to assume responsibility for the peace process if she did not reinstate the sacked interior, defense and media ministers.

"If the prime minister does not have at his disposal the levers of control for carrying forward this process ... then he is asking the president to take over all aspects of the (peace) process," Peiris told reporters on Monday.

Wickremesinghe has accused the president of deliberately plunging the country into chaos and argues that he still has the mandate to govern.

The prime minister and the president are elected separately. Tension between the two leaders has been mounting since Wickremesinghe won parliamentary elections in 2001.

Wickremesinghe's United National Front won power on a platform promising to bring an end to years of civil war -- forcing Kumaratunga's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) out of office.

Since then the president and prime minister have been locked in an uneasy constitutional cohabitation.

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