SRI LANKA: EU bans LTTE travel in member states

LTTE leaders decry the decision, which was supported by the U.S., Japan and Norway

By Arthur Rhodes
AsiaMedia Contributing Writer

Colombo --- The European Union announced last week that it will ban representatives of the Sri Lankan rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from traveling to its 25 member states. The ban, announced on Sept. 27, was accompanied by a threat from the EU that they were "actively considering" listing the LTTE as a terrorist organization.

According the EU's statement, the decision was a "condemnation of the continuing use of violence and terrorism by the [LTTE]." The decision specifically cited the recent assassination of Lakshman Kadirgamar, Sri Lanka's high profile foreign minister who spent much of his career lobbying the international community to ban the LTTE.

There have been no convictions in the murder case, however, and the LTTE has denied involvement in the killing.

On Thursday. S.P Tamilchelvan, the LTTE's political leader, told the online publication, Tamilnet, that the EU's decision will shatter the nation's hopes for peace. He said the allegations that the LTTE assassinated the foreign minister were "unsubstantiated" and that the ban will deny Tamil representatives equal access to the peace process and the international community "access to the truth."

Tamil people, he said, are likely to lose faith in the peace process because of the EU ban. "The continued occupation of houses and public buildings by security forces has caused immense hardships to daily lives of our people," said Tamilchelvan. He said the Sri Lankan government is waging a "shadow war by engaging paramilitaries" in violation of a 2001 cease-fire agreement.

The ban, said Tamilchelvan, will justify Colombo's stance on the peace process "as it will interpret the EU's declaration as providing tacit support to its policies."

Earlier this month Tamilchelvan told AsiaMedia that the "actions of the Colombo government left the Tamil people with very few choices" and "and that options other than peace negotiations must be explored if these actions continue."

There are some, however, who believe that the travel ban will force the LTTE to soften its stance. The Tigers have been fighting for some time to gain international recognition and support for their cause. Nihal Perera, analyst for a Sri Lankan think tank called The National Peace Council told the Associated Press Saturday that he believes "any more acts of violence would jeopardize that dream."

On Friday, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, Christina Rocca told the Sri Lankan Daily Mirror that the United States welcomed the travel ban. Rocca said that the ban was a concerted effort that involved the United States, Norway, Japan and the EU to send a message to the LTTE that a "wanton act of terrorism such as the assassination of [Lakshaman Kadirgamar] should not go unpunished."

"The LTTE lost bargaining power when they assassinated Kadirgamar," U.S. Public Affairs Officer Philip Fraye told AsiaMedia on Friday. "I do not know what they expected, but the international community is not going to sit by and let something like this happen." Fraye said that although there have still been no convictions in the case "the U.S. believes that there is pretty strong evidence that the LTTE committed the assassination."

The United States has held official bans against Tigers since 1996.