- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The first direct talks between Sri Lanka’s president and prime minister since their power struggle erupted into a political crisis last week ended yesterday without a breakthrough, an official at the prime minister’s office said.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe met for two hours for the first time since Nov. 4, when Mrs. Kumaratunga seized control of the ministries of defense, interior and media and temporarily closed Parliament, claiming Mr. Wickremesinghe had made too many concessions to the Tamil rebels.

“There was an exchange of views on various matters,” said Bradmon Weerakoon, secretary to the prime minister. He did not elaborate, but said, “Both will consult their parties and get back next week to have more talks.”

Another official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there was neither a breakthrough nor a breakdown.

The talks took place in a “cordial and friendly” atmosphere, said a joint statement signed by Mr. Weerakoon and W. Karunaratne, secretary to the president. Both participated in the meeting.

“After an exchange of views on events leading to the present situation, the president and prime minister decided to move forward and continue the dialogue with all parties concerned,” they said.

The meeting between the bitter rivals had been expected to ease concerns that their standoff could fracture a Norwegian-brokered cease-fire that had halted 19 years of fighting between government and Tamil Tiger rebel forces in February 2002.

The truce led to six rounds of peace talks between the government and rebels. But the rebels walked out of the talks in April, demanding broader administrative powers in Tamil-majority areas of the island.

Two Norwegian envoys are in Sri Lanka to try to resume peace talks. Norway’s deputy foreign minister, Vidar Helgesen, and special envoy Erik Solheim were to meet with Mrs. Kumaratunga later yesterday.

Mrs. Kumaratunga has invited Mr. Wickremesinghe to discuss forming a “national unity government.” But the prime minister said before yesterday’s meeting that he wanted to discuss the fate of the peace process instead.

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