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Sri Lanka mulls sanctions on rebels, ban possible

Written by: Staff

COLOMBO, Dec 4 (Reuters) Sri Lanka is likely to reinstate its prevention of terrorism act and may even ban the Tamil Tigers after a failed rebel assassination bid, the government said today, steps analysts say could hamstring future peace efforts.

The cabinet is due to decide on Wednesday what sanctions to impose on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after a suspected rebel suicide bomber tried to kill Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse, President Mahinda Rajapakse's brother.

''I am sure, for certain, the prevention of terrorism act will come into operation because, with the escalation of violence and terrorism activities, we need to have some control,'' defence spokesman and government minister Keheliya Rambukwella said.

''With the signing of the ceasefire agreement, that was set aside. It is dormant,'' Rambukwella told Reuters. ''(A ban) is looked at seriously. We are seriously looking at all options how we can defeat terrorism.'' Shadowy rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran last week declared the Tigers were resuming their independence struggle, which analysts say signalled a new chapter in the island's two-decade civil war.

Sri Lanka's conflict has killed more than 67,000 civilians, troops and rebel fighters since 1983, around 3,000 of those so far this year alone amid a spate of military clashes, air raids, artillery duels and suicide bombings.

''It appears to us that Prabhakaran is distancing himself from any negotiated settlement and believes strongly in terrorism, as a result of which terrorism has to be banned,'' Rambukwella added.

India, the United States, Britain and the European Union have already listed the Tigers as a banned terrorist organisation, but Sri Lanka's government lifted its own ban in 2002 when the truce took effect.

Peace mediator Norway said it had been asked to postpone a planned trip by visiting envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer to the rebels' northern stronghold until after the cabinet meeting.

The Tigers said they would wait to see what sanctions the government imposes, but said Rajapakse's administration was eroding any advances made since the ceasefire was agreed.

''They are going backwards in history,'' said S.Puleedevan, the head of the Tigers' peace secretariat.

Diplomats and analysts fear a ban could have serious repercussions.

''It will probably be a counter-productive move. If we are going to move forward in the peace process, at some stage there'll have to be negotiations with the LTTE,'' said Rohan Edrisinha of independent think-tank the Centre for Policy Alternatives.

''If the government was to ban the LTTE it will obviously make communications between the government and the LTTE much more difficult,'' he added. ''It might also signal to the international community that the government of Sri Lanka is not interested in a negotiated settlement and it would play into the hands of LTTE.'' REUTERS LL DS1355

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