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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Rift over Sri Lanka peace moves
President Chandrika Kumaratunga, right, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
The president's party complains she is being ignored
test hello test
By Frances Harrison
BBC correspondent in Colombo

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party of President Chandrika Kumaratunga has called for her to have a greater role in the current peace process.

In a statement breaking months of silence on peace moves, the party proposes the establishment of a standing committee under the joint leadership of the president and the prime minister to guide the negotiations with the Tamil Tiger rebels.

De-proscription could be effected only after the talks commence and are deemed to be progressing satisfactorily

Freedom Party
Throughout the past few months the president's office has continuously complained that she has not been kept informed and involved in the peace process.

While the statement from her party says she will not engage in destructive politics to sabotage the peace process, it does argue that the Tamil Tigers remain committed to the goal of a separate state.

If true, this would make it very difficult for any Sri Lankan Government to negotiate with them.

The 11-page statement criticises Mr Wickramasinghe's government for its willingness to hold talks on an interim administration for the north-east before a comprehensive peace agreement is worked out.

'Mandate for peace'

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party says it vehemently opposes the subjugation of the interim administration to the single-party dominance of the Tamil Tigers.

Tamil Tiger rebel
The Tigers want an independent Tamil state

It cautions that a lax approach could lead to the creation of a de facto separate state.

And it repeats its stance that de-proscription can only take place once peace talks start and make some progress.

The statement also complains that the peace process is being conducted in what it calls a seemingly arbitrary manner, ignoring the president, the views of other political parties, parliament and without the knowledge of the majority of cabinet members.

For its part, the government of Ranil Wickremesinghe has steadily maintained that last December's election results and subsequent local polls were a mandate for peace - endorsing its stance on negotiating a settlement to the two-decade-long conflict.

Sea blast

The Freedom Party call follows a number of recent incidents which have tested a February ceasefire aimed at paving the way for direct talks.

The latest, and most serious, came when an unidentified boat exploded off the island's east coast on Wednesday.

Sri Lankan coastline
The east coast has seen several confrontations

Navy officials say gunboats were approaching to investigate when the vessel blew up, and implied the craft was smuggling ammunition for the rebels - an area not specifically covered in the truce accord.

The Tigers dispute the military's version of events.

The head of their political wing was quoted by rebel radio as saying the security forces had destroyed three fishing boats.

International monitors have visited the areaa of the incident.

Journalists who accompanied the monitors said one injured Muslim fisherman described coming under artillery attack from naval gunboats.

He said his boat was destroyed and the owner was killed immediately, while another survivor later drowned.

The navy's account issued on Thursday was that naval gunboats came under fire from Tamil Tiger craft sheltering among civilian boats and in the firing one rebel boat was destroyed.

This was after the navy said it went to investigate a trawler which mysteriously exploded leaving mortar cases among the debris.

See also:

01 May 02 | South Asia
Boat explodes off Sri Lanka coast
29 Apr 02 | South Asia
Tiger flight tests Sri Lanka truce
24 Apr 02 | South Asia
Sri Lankan navy 'intercepts Tigers'
14 Mar 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka PM visits troubled north
25 Mar 02 | South Asia
Boost for Sri Lanka peace hopes
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