May 29, 2006

EU poised to ban Sri Lanka rebels as war clouds loom

By Simon Gardner

COLOMBO (Reuters) - The European Union is poised to
formally ban Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers, diplomats say, amid
fears a sharp escalation in attacks and clashes with the
military could escalate into all-out war.

The 25-nation bloc is expected to rubber-stamp the ban,
which has been agreed in principle, at a meeting of EU
Ministers later on Monday, following a series of deadly
ambushes on the military, including the worst naval clash since
a 2002 truce.

The Tigers -- who want their de facto state in the north
and east recognized as a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils --
have said the ban will only "exacerbate the conditions of war"
and force them to take a more hardline approach.

They say it could deter them from resuming peace talks
aimed at ending the island's two-decade civil war. They pulled
out of peace talks indefinitely last month.

"I don't think the ban is going to achieve very much," said
Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, an analyst with the Colombo-based
Center for Policy Alternatives. "I can't see any way out of ...
moving toward large-scale hostilities."

More than 280 soldiers, police, civilians and rebels have
been killed in attacks from suicide bombings to naval clashes
since February in what the truce monitors and Tigers now call a
"low intensity war."

On Saturday six local tourists and their guide -- among
them an award-winning author -- were killed by suspected Tamil
Tiger landmines while tracking wild elephants in a park in the
island's northwest. The Tigers denied any hand in the incident.

There was more violence on Monday, with one soldier shot
dead in north-central Sri Lanka and another injured in a
grenade attack in the far north. The military also found a
powerful fragmentation mine rigged up for an ambush.


Frustration among Sri Lankans is palpable as many fear a
return to a full-scale war that killed more than 64,000 people
before the ceasefire and displaced hundreds of thousands more.

"How much more pain can we take? How many more years are we
going to go on?" asked leading local artist Anoma Wijewardene,
whose latest exhibition was inspired by hopes for peace but now
coincides with a new rash of death.

Award-winning local author Nihal de Silva, who was among
those killed during Saturday's wildlife park blasts, was among
the contributors to her video installation exhibition.

"I really wonder how many images how many words, how many
tears, how many lives, how many deaths it will take before we
understand that we are our killing ourselves, we are self
destructing," she said. "This is the fourth friend I have

The tourism industry says renewed war would likely badly
punish a sector still striving to recover from the impact of
the devastating 2004 tsunami.

"I can put on a brave face and say the fact there's no
measurable impact in present hotel bookings means people are
not being affected by it," said Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, CEO
of Jetwing Eco Holidays.

"But I think the grim reality is it will impact on us if it
continues like this and we will see reduced numbers during the
peak season if the peace process does not get underway," he