Sri Lankan opposition MP’s defect to government

Jan 28, 2007 (AFP) – A group of Sri Lankan opposition lawmakers defected Sunday, effectively scuttling a landmark peace deal aimed at ending decades of separatist violence in the island, officials said. Eighteen members of the right-wing United National Party (UNP) formally joined the leftist government of President Mahinda Rajapakse at his office in Colombo, a spokesman for the president said.

Some of the defectors have been rewarded with cabinet portfolios, the spokesman said, adding that there were several others also waiting to join the administration.

The reason the move will scupper the peace deal is that the minority government needs the support of the opposition to pursue the deal with the Tamil Tiger rebels and the opposition is set to withdraw that support.

Radical constitutional changes require a two-thirds majority in the 225-member assembly.

Rajapakse’s leftist Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the opposition UNP in October agreed to work together to hammer out a political solution to the long-running Tamil separatist conflict.

However, UNP Secretary Tissa Attanayake said the deal would be over the moment their members were accommodated on the government side.