BRUSSELS (AFP) - The
European Union put Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers on its list of terrorist groups, despite a warning from the rebels that the move could force them back to war.
The EU ban, agreed in principle on May 18, was made official at a meeting of ministers from the 25-member bloc to discuss competition issues.
It will deprive the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of some of the vital funds they collect from members of the Tamil diaspora in Europe.
As well as freezing rebel funds, the move, which came at the urging of the United States and the Sri Lankan government, also provides for special EU cooperation measures to combat the group.
The separatist ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has claimed more than 60,000 lives since 1972. More than 200 people died last month despite a four-year truce between government forces and the rebels, brokered by Norway.
Sri Lanka had hoped a ban would force the rebels to the negotiating table, and the EU move comes just as the rebels have accepted an invitation to take part in talks in Norway next month.
An EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the LTTE had brought the ban on itself.
"If they had been serious at the negotiating table we could have thought about another way, we would have set up a virtuous circle, instead of this vicious circle that we’re in at the moment," he said.
According to the pro-rebel Internet site, Nitharsanam.com, the Tigers will send representatives for a two-day meeting in Norway starting June 8 to discuss the role of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission.
The safety of Scandinavian truce monitors will be high on the agenda.
Government sources have said that Colombo was not averse to the meeting in Norway, but had been waiting for a signal from the Tigers before announcing their intention to participate.
It is unclear what affect the EU ban will have on the talks.
In Sri Lanka, there was no immediate comment from the Tigers or the government over the ban.
However, in remarks published in the pro-rebel Tamilnet.com website, the LTTE’s political wing leader S. P. Thamilselvan said an EU-wide ban could affect the work of Scandinavians monitoring a truce in Sri Lanka.
Three of the five Nordic countries constituting the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) are from EU member countries.
"The EU’s ban will conflict with the objective functioning of monitors from EU countries, and will damage the trust and good will Tamil people had in the EU countries," Thamilselvan said.
For its part, the Colombo administration had said that it expected the ban to encourage the Tigers to return to the negotiating table it left in April 2003.
"It’s too late to complain about the result (ban)," the diplomat said. "They were warned."
He said things might have been different if the rebels had helped improve international access to the area after the tsunami in December 2004.
"But there wasn’t any tsunami effect."
In February, the Sri Lankan government and the Tigers held two days of talks in Switzerland to review their ceasefire. A second round due in April was put off indefinitely after the rebels cited difficulties in travelling through government-controlled areas.
Since then, violence has escalated across the island’s north and east.
The monitors say that about 600 people, more than half of them civilians, have been killed since December, leaving the truce in force only on paper.
The EU blacklist was drawn up late in 2001, following the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington and is revised regularly. The militant Palestinian group Hamas and the Spanish separatist movement ETA figure on it.
The Tamil Tigers already figure on Britain’s terror list, as well as those of the United States, Canada and India.
Britain banned the Tigers in February 2001 while the EU in October slapped travel restrictions on them after holding the LTTE responsible for the August 2005 assassination of Sri Lankan foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.
The EU warned at the time that the Tigers could face a complete ban, which would affect fundraising among the many Tamils living in Europe, unless they renounce violence.