Wed June 21, 2006 01:48 EDT .
Associated Press Writer
KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka (AP) _ The political chief of the Tamil Tiger rebels said Wednesday that his group would use all means necessary _ including suicide bombers _ if full-scale war erupts on this island nation.
The comments by S.P. Tamilselvan, made in an exclusive interview to The Associated Press, came amid weeks of increasing violence that he blamed on the Sri Lankan military and other groups opposed to the Tigers, denying the separatist militants had played any role in violence in areas under government control.
He called the 2002 cease-fire that ended nearly 20 years of combat ``a dead letter,'' adding ``It is just a piece of paper that has no meaning at all.''
Discrimination against Sri Lanka's 3.2 million Tamils, most of whom are Hindu, led the Tigers to take up arms in 1983. The spark was anti-Tamil riots, and the resulting war on this tropical island of 19 million people _ nearly three-quarters of them Sinhalese _ left more than 65,000 people dead before a 2002 cease-fire.
But talks to build on the truce soon faltered, and in the past year sporadic shootings and bombings have escalated into near-daily violence. Almost 700 people, more than half of them civilians, have been killed since April.
The government and rebels blame each other for the spiraling violence and civilian deaths.
However, Tamilselvan said the Tigers were willing to sit down again for peace talks as long as the government allowed the Tigers' Central Committee _ its main decision-making body _ to gather safely from a series of scattered guerrilla bases across the island to talk about the situation.
He also insisted that the government stop attacking Tamil civilians, citing the deaths of five people Saturday in a largely Tamil village in northwestern Sri Lanka. The government blames the killings on the Tigers
``If a war is to be averted,'' he said, ``the key element is in the hands of the government to make a decision to stop this violence and then go into peace talks.''
The government insisted it too was ready to talk.
``We are willing to resume peace talks and go into the core issues so that a permanent solution can be found,'' said Keheliya Rambukwella, the chief government spokesman, responding to Tamilselvan's statements. He noted that the government had previously arranged for Tiger officials to travel, but said: ``Every time we made the arrangement, they used lame excuses and aborted the travel.''
Tamilselvan said the escalating violence was the fault of the government, pro-government political parties and a Tiger faction that has broken away from the main group.
He also warned that full-scale war would be bloody.
``If war is let loose by the government on the Tamil people ... We definitely will make use of all the weapons in our arsenal _ not only weapons, but manpower.''
Asked if that would include suicide bombers, he said: ``In facing war ... of course we will use all our resources.''
The rebels' suicide squad, called the Black Tigers, launched its first suicide attack in July 1987, when a rebel drove a truckload of explosives into a military camp, killing 40 soldiers.
Since then, 240 other rebels have blown themselves up in attacks that have killed Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa, former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and dozens more.
The latest suicide attack came April 25, when a woman disguised to look pregnant blew herself up in front of a car carrying Sri Lanka's highest-ranking general. Eight people were killed and 26 wounded, including the general.
Nonetheless, the government was unruffled by Tamilselvan's tough talk.
``If they think that by uttering such words, the government will get scared, let me tell you we are not,'' said Rambukwella. ``Mr. Tamilselvan has proved beyond any doubt that the LTTE is a terror outfit, 100 percent. It is like making a confession.''
The United States has long labeled the Tigers terrorists, in part for their use of suicide bombings, and the European Union recently moved to do the same.
The EU's decision has prompted the Tigers to demand that anyone from Sweden, Denmark or Finland be excluded from Sri Lanka's Nordic peace monitoring mission because those countries belong to the bloc.
The rebels repeated their demand in a meeting Wednesday with Norway's ambassador.
``The LTTE feels that it is not able to continue cooperating with countries that have listed the LTTE'' as terrorists, Ambassador Hans Brasttkar told reporters after meeting with top rebel leaders in Kilinochchi, the largest town in Tiger-controlled Sri Lanka.
He suggested that Finns, Swedes and Danes would have to leave to mission, saying the LTTE's demand ``will have serious implications.''
``This is not something that will happen today or tomorrow. There will be a transition period,'' Brasttkar said
Norway, which brokered the cease-fire, and Iceland, the other two members of the monitoring mission, are not EU members.
Published: Wed Jun 21 02:32:29 EDT 2006