President Chandrika Kumaratunga's People's Alliance said it was looking at the speech made on Thursday by Tamil Tiger Supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran who said the political turmoil had endangered the peace initiative.

  

"We don't want to give a piecemeal reaction," party spokesman Sarath Amunugama said in Colombo on Friday. "We are studying the speech and we will come up with a detailed response next week."

  

The president's party had earlier been quick to criticise the Tamil Tigers as well as the Norwegian-backed peace bid. But diplomats said the party appeared to be taking a more measured approach amid international pressure not to scuttle the peace process.

 

Denial

  

Prabhakaran in his speech denied allegations by Kumaratunga that the rebels were re-arming, recruiting and strengthening themselves taking advantage of an Oslo-brokered truce since 23 February 2002.

  

There was also no immediate comment from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's government to the speech.

  

Prabhakaran, who marked his 49th birthday on Wednesday, said a power struggle between Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe had cast doubts over the peace process.

  

"It has now become a universal truth that she took this serious action as an immediate response to our draft proposals"

Velupillai Prabhakaran,
chief, Tamil Tigers

Kumaratunga sacked three ministers in Wickremesinghe's government and suspended parliament for two weeks on 4 November, four days after the Tigers unveiled their first-ever blueprint for peace.

  

In the ensuing political crisis, peace-broker Norway suspended its involvement in the process saying they needed "clarity" on who was really in charge in Colombo.

  

"Whatever the reasons she (Kumaratunga) attributes to her actions, it has now become a universal truth that she took this serious action as an immediate response to our draft proposals," Prabhakaran said. "As a consequence ... the peace process is severely endangered."

  

Diplomats and sources close to the peace process said the Tiger leader's speech had been on expected lines, blaming the majority Sinhalese political establishment for trying to scuttle a peace settlement.

  

The threat to secede had been reiterated every year, but diplomats said it assumed a new dimension this year in the context of the stalled peace initiative.

  

However, the rebels also made it clear that they were committed to the peace process and had no intention of returning to a war which has already claimed over 60,000 lives in the past three decades.