President threatens to cancel ceasefire

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 26 February 2002, 11:56 GMT]
(News Feature) Sri Lanka’s President Chandrika Kumaratunga Monday threatened to derail the permanent ceasefire between the United National Front government and the Liberation Tigers with a single letter to the Army commander, a press report said Tuesday. President Kumaratunga also stepped up the war of words with the UNF government of Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, dealing a heavy blow to the latter’s efforts to sustain governance by ‘cohabitation’ between Parliament and the office of the President, the Daily Mirror reported. Kumaratunga’s People’s Alliance (PA), along with the Janatha Vimukthi Pramuna (JVP) and the paramilitary Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) intend to mount a legal challenge to the permanent ceasefire, press reports said Monday.

“I can stop Ranil Wickremesinghe's agreement with one letter to the army commander,” President Kumaratunga, who is commander in chief of Sri Lanka’s armed forces told a local government meeting in Ja Ela, according to the Daily Mirror.

“There are several suspicious clauses in the agreement with the LTTE. I have appointed a committee to study the agreement and the report would be out in a day or two. Then I will take necessary action,” she said.

The President has deputed the former Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, to consult legal experts on the fault-lines of the agreement, and the PA statement is likely to point them out, the Hindu reported Monday. “In the agreement of the UNP I believe our security camps are facing a great danger,” the Daily Mirror quoted her as saying.

Sri Lanka state radio reported Monday that Kumaratunga’s main opposition People’s Alliance would, along with the JVP and the EPDP are planning to mount a legal challenge to the permanent ceasefire.

Kumaratunga, who on Friday accused the Wickremesinghe government of going through an improper and undemocratic procedure for the ceasefire accord, insisted she was still very much the Head of State. She claims that the UNF government had violated the Constitution by not consulting the President, Parliament and Cabinet of Ministers before signing the agreement.

The government denies the accusations. Government spokesman Prof. G.L. Peiris was quoted as saying the cabinet had discussed the proposed ceasefire agreement on February 20 and February 21 and had endorsed its provisions in “unequivocal terms.” The President had not attended the cabinet meeting, the government said. The government has brought forward the Parliamentary debate on the agreement to next Monday.

Prof. Peiris pointed out Monday that in 1995 the terms of the cessation of hostilities agreement drawn up between Kumaratunga’s government and the LTTE were not presented to or endorsed by the Cabinet. Observers say the present ceasefire negotiated painstakingly in the past two months by the Norwegian government incorporates several features of the 1995 truce, and includes additional safeguards.

Furthermore, denying Kumaratunga’s claims that she had been kept in the dark as to the details of the ceasefire and presented with a fait accompli, Prof. Peiris said the Prime Minister had exhaustively discussed the terms of the agreement with the President for three hours on February 21. The Norwegian delegation is also reported to have discussed truce with the President during its formation.

Criticising Kumaratunga’s complaints, Prof. Peiris said it was remarkable that these were the issues which seemed to have agitated the President's mind at a time when a major event of national importance was unfolding, in reference to the landmark truce agreement between the government and the LTTE.

The ceasefire has been enthusiastically welcomed by the international community. India, the United States, Britain and Japan hailed the agreement hours after it was unveiled by the Norwegian government Friday. Since then, Australia, Canada and Pakistan have welcomed it with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan extending his support on Monday.


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