EU pushing Sri Lanka peace to critical stage: rebel political leader

From left: Dr. Fernando Im, Senior Country Economist for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, The World Bank, Hon. Eran Wickramaratne, State Minister, Ministry of Finance and Mass Media, Dr. W A Wijewardana, Former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Prof. Indralal de Silva, Former (Chair) of Demography, University of Colombo, Prof. Amala de Silva, Department of Economics, University of Colombo at the panel discussion on "Demographic Change in Sri Lanka" moderated by Dr. Ramani Gunatilaka, International Centre for Ethnic Studies.

KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka, May 22, 2006 (AFP) – The European Union’s “shocking” move towards blacklisting Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers will push the peace process to a critical stage, the head of the rebels’ political wing said in an interview with AFP. The EU agreed in principle late Thursday to ban the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as a “terrorist” group, possibly as early as this week, diplomats said.

The move is “shocking and surprising,” S. P. Thamilselvan, 39, the soft-spoken head of the Tigers’ political office, told AFP.

“We consider that this move on the part of the EU will push the peace process, on which the Tamil people are banking their hopes, into a very critical juncture,” Thamilselvan said in this northern town, which serves as the “capital” of rebel-held territory.

“This is only going to encourage the extremist-thinking elements in the south,” he said.

The United States banned the LTTE in 1997, five years after India outlawed the group.

Canada declared the Tigers “terrorists” last month.

Escalating violence since December has left a 2002 ceasefire between government troops and the guerrillas in force only on paper.

More than 200 people died in April, the bloodiest month in four years.