LTTE to remain on US terror list

WASHINGTON, June 22 (AFP) - The United States said Tuesday it would not remove the terrorist tag from the Tamil Tigers rebel group, 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 (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) as a terrorist organization 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.

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.

Rocca said although the government was willing to negotiate, "they donít 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 organizations.

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 organizations list," she said. "At the moment there is 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 also said that the United States would revive talks with Sri Lanka on establishing a free trade agreement following discussions with the new government which came to power in April after elections.

Rocca said the new 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.