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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 10:03 GMT
Sri Lanka debates peace deal
Norwegian monitors meeting Ranil Wickramasinghe
Norway's role has come in for criticism
Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe has said the country's armed forces will remain on alert despite a ceasefire between the government and Tamil separatist rebels.

It is not surprising that there is a high level of mistrust between the two parties

Prime Minister Wickramasinghe
The premier made the comment to parliament on Monday at the beginning of a two-day special debate on the Norwegian-brokered peace initiative.

Mr Wickramasinghe initiated the session amid criticism that he has compromised Sri Lanka's sovereignty and national security.

Last week President Chandrika Kumaratunga demanded a review of the agreement between the government and the rebels.

Under the 22 February agreement, the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels agreed not to attack each other to pave the way for eventual peace talks.

Norway role

Mr Wickramasinghe told parliament he was aware of the pitfalls of the peace process.

"Given the history of the conflict, it is not surprising that there is a high level of mistrust between the two parties," he said.

"Therefore, while we go forward to implement the agreement, we will continue to keep our armed forces on constant alert."

President Chandrika Kumaratunga greeting the cabinet
Mrs Kumaratunga has demanded a review

He also rejected criticism that by giving Norway a monitoring role in the process, he had compromised Sri Lanka's sovereignty.

The special parliamentary session was called following demands by the opposition Peoples Alliance and the Marxist JVP, both of which have criticised the peace move.

President Kumaratunga also accused Norway, the country which brokered the deal, of trying to cause more trouble in her already embattled country.

The Norwegians were first invited to broker peace in Sri Lanka by the president three years ago.

However, after accusing Norway's special envoy Erik Solheim of siding with the Tamil Tiger rebels, the president suspended the peace initiative last June.

Ms Kumaratunga's Peoples Alliance lost to Mr Wickramasinghe's United National Party in the last general elections but she retained the executive presidency, leading to an uneasy cohabitation government.

See also:

26 Feb 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka plays down tensions
23 Feb 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka truce takes hold
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