Sri Lanka focuses on peace agreement between government and Tamil Tiger rebels

Sri Lanka's top peace negotiator has resigned, officials said Wednesday, during a presidential campaign that has focused on the rapidly fraying cease-fire agreement between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels. Jayantha Dhanapala played a pivotal role in efforts to revive deadlocked peace talks with the rebels as violence increased.

He plans to focus on his campaign to replace U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2006, said an official from his office who insisted on anonymity.

"Mr. Dhanapala has stated in his letter of resignation that his departure ... will enable the incoming president to make his own appointment to the post with minimum disruption," said spokeswoman Sharmini Serasinghe Serasinghe.

The fate of the three-year-old truce is a chief issue at the Nov. 17 poll.

Negotiations with the rebels have remained deadlocked over the Tigers' demands for wide autonomy since April 2003, with little signs of revival. Dhanapala was appointed in May 2004.

Ruling party candidate Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse has vowed a hard line against the rebels by promising not to share political power and to review the cease-fire deal.

His main rival, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who signed the truce with the rebels when he was prime minister, has promised to resume the peace talks and create a federal system of government that would give the separatists more autonomy.

Dhanapala will stay on as head the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process until the end of the month, when his deputy, John Gooneratne, will take over until a new chief is appointed, Serasinghe said, reports the AP. I.L.