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US will continue LTTE ban : 

State Department

WASHINGTON, (AFP)

The United States said Wednesday it would not remove the terrorist tag from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) even though it had observed a ceasefire for more than two years and conducted informal peace talks with the Government.

"We will not remove our designation of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation until it has firmly and decidedly given up terrorism and such policies as the recruitment of children as soldiers," Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca said.

The Tigers opened peace talks in September 2002 after entering into a Norwegian-brokered truce with security forces seven months earlier. The talks have been deadlocked since April last year.

Rocca, who is in charge of South Asian affairs, told a congressional hearing that she did not expect peace talks to resume before August even though the Norwegian Government played a "heroic role" in mediations between the Government and the LTTE.

"We are hopeful that they will start sometime soon, because there definitely is the will on the part of the Government to move forward on this," she added.

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has agreed to discuss a LTTE plan for interim self-rule only if the negotiations also focus on reaching a final settlement to the three-decade conflict, a condition rejected by the Tigers. Rocca said although the Government was willing to negotiate, "they don't want to create a de facto separate state going into the negotiations."

At the hearing, Illinois Republican Representative Jerry Weller had asked the State Department official when she expected the Tigers to be taken off the US list of international terrorist organisations.

Rocca was also asked whether such a move would be an inducement for the Tigers to participate in productive peace negotiations.

"We look forward to the day when the LTTE will take the steps necessary to get off the foreign terrorist organisations list," she said. "At the moment there are no plans to take them off."

She charged that the Tigers continued to recruit child soldiers, stockpiled weapons and conducted extrajudicial assassinations of politicians who disagreed with them.

"They are continuing to stockpile weapons. They will need to renounce terrorism in word and in deed in order to be taken off the list," Rocca said.

Rocca said the United States would revive talks with Sri Lanka on establishing a free trade agreement following discussions with the new government. The two countries currently have a trade and investment framework agreement.

Rocca said the Government clarified that it wanted a continuation of the economic relationship under the deal. "So it looks as if, on the economic front, we are certainly getting assurances that Sri Lanka wants to continue to move forward and take its place in the global marketplace, as it was moving before. And we very much welcome that," she added.

The United States is Sri Lanka's largest single export market, accounting for about 40 per cent of the island's overseas sales. Bilateral trade is worth two billion dollars a year.

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