Monday, Apr 07, 2003
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By V.S. Sambandan
COLOMBO. APRIL 6. The Sri Lankan President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, is to discuss issues relating to bilateral relations and the progress of the ongoing peace negotiations between Colombo and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) with Indian leaders during her visit starting Monday, according to media reports, but the island's thorny cohabitation politics also forms a crucial backdrop to the latest developments.
Ms. Kumaratunga, scheduled to transit through Chennai, is likely to meet the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa. The former Foreign Affairs Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, who is currently the Senior Adviser on Foreign Affairs, will accompany Ms. Kumaratunga.
There has been no official word from the President's office, but media reports suggested that Ms. Kumaratunga's visit could "mark the launch of what appears to be a new international campaign''. It may be recalled that Colombo's key Minister in the peace talks, Milinda Moragoda, visits India after every monthly round of talks. Though India is not directly involved in the peace process, it remains the crucial external factor. Colombo and the Tigers are to hold the seventh round of talks later this month in which political issues are to be addressed.
Ms. Kumaratunga's visit also comes ahead of a peace support conference to be held in Washington this month as a prelude to the Tokyo donors' conference in June. India had stayed away from an earlier donors' meet in Oslo and has made it clear that it will not be a part of any meeting involving the Tigers, banned in the country since the assassination of the former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. The U.S. has reportedly said that it would not invite the group, named by it as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation.
The LTTE terming the U.S. position "disappointing'' said it could ``reconsider'' its participation in Tokyo. Ms. Kumaratunga's visit has drawn considerable media attention with the Sunday Times quoting a source close to the President as saying that Ms. Kumaratunga "will counter any propaganda that she would discontinue the peace process when a future Peoples' Alliance (PA) Government is elected.'' The President heads a thorny cohabitation Government with her political rival, Ranil Wickremesinghe, as the Prime Minister. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), headed by her, is working towards an alliance with the Left radical Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) as a prelude to a change in Government. The JVP, which led protests against the Indo Sri Lanka Accord, says the conflict requires a military solution and opposes dilution of the unitary state. India, which had earlier maintained a distance from the JVP, has now adopted a strategy of engaging all parliamentary players, particularly those opposed to the LTTE. The SLFP, the main PA constituent, has said it wants to return to full power at the earliest.
The ruling United National Front (UNF) says it was "considering in earnest'' a non-binding referendum on the peace process, which, however, would need a Presidential nod. The LTTE, for its part, has said that Colombo wants to create an "illusion of a political settlement'' before the Tokyo conference.
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