EU bans Tamil Tiger leaders over Sri Lankan minister's killing

In a harshly worded statement, the EU apportioned blame for the rising violence in Sri Lanka to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the LTTE, and said it deplored the assassination of the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister last month.

The Tamil Tigers have denied any involvement in the murder of Lakshman Kadirgamar, but yesterday's tough statement underlines the doubts of many diplomats about the group's claims of innocence.

"The European Union is actively considering the formal listing of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation," said yesterday's statement.

With presidential elections in November, the country's ceasefire is under mounting strain, with the Tigers blamed by the government for numerous breaches, particularly in the east of the island.

The EU condemned "the continuing use of violence and terrorism by the LTTE", while calling on the Tigers to "demonstrate their commitment to the peace process and their willingness to change". It also criticised the group's "abhorrent" use of child soldiers.

The statement marks a clear hardening of the EU's position against the group, while imposing little in the way of sanctions. EU member states are not, as yet, all ready to join Britain and the US, which already list the Tigers as a terror group.

The ban marks a significant shift since the previous Commissioner for external relations, Chris Patten, met senior representatives of the organisation. The current Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, made it clear she was willing to do so during a visit earlier this year though the meeting never took place.

However, the measures announced yesterday do not preclude contact with the Tigers, or ban their leaders from travelling in a personal capacity to EU countries.

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