COLOMBO (Reuters) - The Sri Lankan government's top peace broker, a candidate to become the next U.N. secretary-general, resigned on Wednesday, a week before a presidential election.
Jayantha Dhanapala, head of the government's Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process, will step down at the end of November, the secretariat's deputy secretary general, John Gooneratne, told Reuters.
"He was appointed by the government and there's an election coming, and he feels whoever comes in should have their own choice," Gooneratne added.
Outgoing President Chandrika Kumaratunga had accepted the resignation.
"He has other plans that he needs to work on," Gooneratne said, referring to Dhanapala's publicly announced bid to succeed U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Dhanapala's resignation comes just days ahead of the November 17 presidential vote, which pivots on how to jumpstart Sri Lanka's bid to convert a 2002 truce with the Tamil Tigers into a definitive end to a two-decade civil war that killed more than 64,000 people.
However, peace talks have been suspended since the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) pulled out of them in 2003, and Dhanapala's departure was not expected to have any immediate impact.
Kumaratunga is in the twilight of her second term and cannot run again, leaving Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and main opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to face off for the presidency in a race seen too close to call.
PEACE BID DEADLOCKED
However, the peace process that Dhanapala helped marshal is at its lowest ebb since the truce was brokered, strained by a rash of attacks that the rebels and military blame on each other and which culminated in the August assassination of the foreign minister.
The Tigers, who deny involvement in the killing, are refusing to resume peace talks because they are not ready for a long-term deal, analysts say.
The Tigers, who have de facto rule over the 15 percent of Sri Lanka they control, want to carve out a homeland for minority Tamils, who they say are discriminated against by Sri Lanka's majority Sinhalese and are striving for autonomy.
Truce monitors say a return to a full-blown war is unlikely, but analysts expect the peace impasse to continue whoever wins the election.
Dhanapala angered the Tigers in August when he said the government would not subdue a splinter rebel faction which is mounting attacks against the mainstream guerrillas in the east.
The Tigers accuse the military of helping the Karuna faction, a charge the military denies, and insist the government abide by the cease-fire and disarm paramilitaries.
"They do not qualify as a paramilitary group because they were not there prior to the cease-fire agreement ... This is an internal problem of the LTTE," Dhanapala said at the time.