Truce monitors in Sri Lanka from European Union (EU) member states Denmark, Finland and Sweden must leave the country by September 1, a top Tamil Tiger rebel leader told the agency on Monday.
Some 37 out of 57 Scandinavian monitors from the three states cannot be considered neutral, after the EU put the Tigers on its list of banned terrorist groups in May, Tiger political wing leader SP Tamilselvan said.
"September 1 must be the time frame by which they reconstitute" the monitoring mission, Tamilselvan said in an interview at his political headquarters of Kilinochchi, 330 kms north of Colombo.
In June, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) told peace broker Norway to get the EU monitors out within a month.
The Tigers had agreed to extend the one-month deadline because Norway told them that during July "no concrete action could be taken in Europe because of the holidays... we realise they need some more time," Tamilselvan said.
Asked what would happen if Norway was unable to remove EU monitors and reshape the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) by September 1, Tamilselvan said: "The question of the facilitators unable to meet the deadline does not apply because we have provided them with sufficient time."
He said the European Union had censured the Sri Lankan government in a statement in May for the lack of progress in the Norwegian-backed peace initiative but decided to outlaw the Tigers as a "terrorist organisation".
"This makes the Tamil people look at the (EU) monitors with a suspicious eye," he said. "A member from a country that has participated in a ban of the LTTE cannot be defined as a neutral person."
The Tiger demand for the EU monitors to quit comes amid spiralling violence on the embattled island, where more than 825 people have been killed since December.
The February 2002 truce brokered by Norway is now in tatters and attempts to arrange a face-to-face meeting in Oslo between the two sides failed in early June.
Talks held among the five Nordic nations providing staff for the SLMM last week ended after five hours without any announcement of a breakthrough over the truce monitoring crisis.
Mission leader Sweden had asked for more time to evaluate the country's role in the mission, diplomatic sources in Oslo said.
Diplomats in Colombo said that Norway was likely to try to strike a compromise on the LTTE demand rather than pull out altogether, saying there was too much pressure from the international community to remain.
The rebels have also warned against Norway's withdrawal, saying that war would be "unavoidable" if Oslo quit the peace process.
Angered over the apparent move by the rebels to dictate how the ceasefire would be maintained, Sri Lanka last week cautioned Norway against any deal with Tigers over truce monitoring.
Sri Lanka's top official coordinating the peace efforts with Norway, Palitha Kohona, said Colombo insisted that there should be no unilateral action in changing the ceasefire agreement.
"It cannot be changed unilaterally according to the whims of one party," Kohona said. "The government must also be involved in the discussion."
Some 60,000 people have been killed since the Tamil separatist conflict began in 1972.
The LTTE is fighting for an independent homeland for nearly two million minority Tamils.