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Tuesday, 3 December, 2002, 15:12 GMT
'Conspiracy' threat to Sri Lanka talks
Tamil Tiger negotiators on left, government team on right
The talks are going ahead without Mr Hakeem

The leader of Sri Lanka's main Muslim party has said an attempt by rebels in his own party to oust him is part of a wider conspiracy aimed at pushing the country back to the brink of war.


This is a conspiracy to destabilise the Muslims and to create a change in the balance of power in parliament

Rauf Hakeem
Rauf Hakeem abandoned this week's peace talks in Norway to fly back to Colombo to try and quell the crisis within his Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.

He says he has the backing of six MPs besides himself, while the dissident group has five.

This effectively splits the party which is crucial for the government's two-seat parliamentary majority.

Hours after Mr Hakeem spoke to reporters, his opponents in the SLMC brought an injunction preventing him from making statements and calling meetings as head of the party for the next 10 days.

'Plot'

Speaking earlier at a news conference straight after arriving at the airport, Mr Hakeem had said the current crisis had nothing to do with tensions within his party.

It was instead a conspiracy engineered from outside, he said.

Mr Hakeem refused to identify the conspirators, saying only that it was quite apparent who was behind the plot to oust him.

Rauf Hakeem (photo courtesy of Sri Lankan Government)
Muslim question is key element in peace talks
The aim, he said, was to create turmoil in the country and engender a crisis that would drag Sri Lanka to the brink of war.

Party dissidents have complained that Mr Hakeem did not have general approval to engage in peace talks with the Tamil Tiger rebels and the Sri lankan government.

In total they have listed 36 such allegations against Mr Hakeem.

But he says these allegations were discussed before he left for Norway in a party meeting which went very smoothly and peacefully.

Manoeuvring

It was only when Mr Hakeem had left the country that he got word of what he says was an illegal meeting of his party executive called without his permission.

He responded by sending a fax suspending the chairman and general secretary of his party.

They replied in kind, suspending Mr Hakeem as party leader.

Mr Hakeem described this crisis as a temporary setback for Muslim interests at the peace talks in Oslo, but added that he had secured undertakings from both sides to defer any decision with a direct bearing on Muslims in Sri Lanka.

Overall, Mr Hakeem said this crisis in his party was part of an attempt to change what he called parliamentary equations and power formations.

The government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe depends on the Muslim party for its slim majority in parliament, though it can also count on the Tamil parties as well for outside support.

But many feel it would be dangerous politically for the government to rely wholly on the moderate Tamil parties because they are alleged to be ideologically close to the Tamil Tiger rebels.


Peace efforts

Background

BBC SINHALA SERVICE

BBC TAMIL SERVICE

TALKING POINT
See also:

03 Dec 02 | South Asia
02 Dec 02 | South Asia
28 Nov 02 | South Asia
26 Nov 02 | South Asia
03 Nov 02 | South Asia
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