Marxists quit Sri Lankan govt

Agence France Presse

Colombo, June 16:

Sri Lanka’s main Marxist party today quit the 14-month-old coalition government to protest sharing aid with Tamil Tiger rebels, but kept the door open for reconciliation with president Chandrika Kumaratunga. The JVP, or People’s Liberation Front, said its decision to leave had gone into effect at midnight, leaving Kumaratunga’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) as a minority administration backed by smaller parties. JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe said the party might still return to the fold if the president agreed to reconsider her plan for a joint mechanism with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). However, he said the JVP’s 39 legislators would take their seats alongside the opposition as an independent entity, but declined to say how they would vote in the 225-member assembly. Amarasinghe said the party believed that Kumaratunga’s plan to share aid with the rebels through a joint mechanism would compromise the country’s sovereignty and national security.

Amarasinghe said the JVP’s withdrawal from the coalition could lead to Kumaratunga losing her grip on power “within weeks” in the national parliament as well as on several local council bodies. Kumaratunga in a letter to the JVP yesterday vowed she would go ahead on the aid-sharing deal and asked her Marxist coalition partner to change its hardline stand.

The withdrawal of the party has not led to the immediate collapse of the government because

Kumaratunga has secured the support of others in the parliament to survive. “We have made it clear that we will not make use of this crisis to bring the government down,” a spokesman from the right-wing opposition United National Party said. After the split, the party represents the largest single group in the assembly with 88 legislators compared to 66 of Kumaratunga’s own SLFP. “Quite to the contrary, we want the president to establish the ‘joint mechanism’ as quickly as possible,” the spokesman said.