Four days after she had dissolved the parliament and ordered snap elections, Kumaratunga sent letters informing 39 non-cabinet rank ministers of their formal removal.

A senior minister in Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's cabinet responded immediately to Kumaratunga's move by threatening to quit.

Milinda Moragoda, who is also a negotiator in talks with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), asked the prime minister to take "appropriate action" to relieve him of his cabinet post. But under Sri Lanka's cabinet, the prime minister has no power to remove ministers.

Rebel warning

The LTTE had warned that the political crisis and the snap polls Kumaratunga had called for on 2 April were a "grave setback" for the Norwegian-led peace process as well as the ceasefire arranged by Oslo.

Political turmoil has dogged the Indian Ocean country in recent months with bitter rivals Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe engaged in a power tussle.

It has jeopardised peace parleys between Colombo and the LTTE and fuelled fears that the country could return to civil war.

Truce panel

Kumaratunga meanwhile met with the head of the truce monitoring panel Trond Furuhovde on Wednesday and asked for a panel to be established to review the ceasefire agreed by the prime minister and the rebels in February 2002.

Kumaratunga, who had earlier described the ceasefire agreement signed as an "invalid document" told Furuhovde she would uphold the truce.