Political rivals in Sri Lanka agree to pursue national consensus
For the first time in the history of the island nation, the arch political rivals Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by President, Mahinda Rajapaksa and the United National Party under the leadership of a former Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe on Thursday agreed to pursue a `national consensus' on all issues confronting the country.
Both sides agreed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on six points including the ethnic issue. On the ethnic issue, the two sides have agreed broadly to work on a `federal' solution to the ethnic strife that has afflicted the country for decades.
The extraordinary distance the two rival parties have travelled could be gauged from the fact that President Rajapaksa invited the UNP to join the Cabinet of Ministers to `effectively carry out the agreed programme of work'.
The agreement came about at a meeting of representatives of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and United National Party who met at President's Office earlier in the day. Mr. Rajapaksa led the SLFP and Mr. Wickremesinghe represented his party team.
A statement by the President's Secretariat said here that signing of the MOU between the two parties is to be `expedited'. Earlier the expectations were that the MoU would be signed before October 15. At a separate news conference, Mr. Wickremesinghe said that the signing ceremony could be delayed by a few more days pending finalisation of the practical details.
Mr. Wickremesinghe, who is currently the Leader of the Opposition, told journalists that the Working Committee of UNP would meet on Monday to consider the pros and cons of the offer made by Mr. Rajapaksa to be part of his Government to implement the MoU.
The former Prime Minister was at pains to emphasise that his party has taken up the offer made by Mr. Rajapaksa for cooperation with the objective of facilitating a `political solution' to the ethnic issue. "We are committed to pursuit of peace while safeguarding the territorial integrity of the country", he said.
In response to a question Mr. Wickremesinghe said at the morning, he enquired from the President about the status of proposed talks with the LTTE and Mr. Rajapaksa informed him that the Government was going ahead with the dialogue on October 28 and 29.
"We believe both sides should sit down to talks with the help of Norway as the official facilitator and assistance of the Co-Chairs and India. People have expectations on us to end the war and we are going to play our role towards that goal", he said.
Statement by Mr. Rajapaksa's office said that at the meeting between the delegates of both parties President Rajapaksa emphasized the importance of each party safeguarding its individuality while working together on a common programme.
The President also said there was an opportunity for other political parties to also join with the Government to help overcome the challenges faced by the country today and for the greater welfare of the people. Mr. Wickremesinghe said his party would interact with other parties on the subject.
The UNP delegations included Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya, G. L. Peiris MP, Milinda Moragoda MP, Rukman Senanayake MP, John Amaratunga MP, Ravi Karunanayake MP and former Chairman Malik Samarawickrema.
The SLFP delegates were Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, Leader of the House - Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva and Minister Susil Premajayatha.
Apart from discussions on this occasion among the members of the two delegations, there was also a separate discussion between President Rajapaksa and Mr. Wickramasinghe, the statement said.
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Published: Thu Oct 12 14:46:12 EDT 2006