Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Monday threatened to outlaw the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist group if it did not allow Tamils living in its control to move to government-held areas.
Rajapaksa, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and the defence minister, made the statement while addressing officials, groups of clergy, professionals and several others in Colombo.
"Rajapaksa called on the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) that with the dawn of 2009 it should release all innocent Tamil people it is holding hostage and in bondage using them as human shields and allow them to come to safe areas provided by the government and security forces," the president's office said.
"Failure to do this would lead the government proscribing the LTTE and they (rebels) will face all its consequences as a terrorist organisation thereafter," Rajapaksa was quoted as saying.
The LTTE has already been listed as a terrorist group in various countries including India, the US and the 27-member European Union.
The LTTE was first banned in Sri Lanka in 1983 following the introduction of the emergency regulation. The ban was revoked when the regulation was withdrawn in 1987.
The ban was re-imposed in January 1998 after a suspected LTTE attack on the Buddhist tooth-relic temple in Kandy. It was revoked in 2002 after the signing of the Norwegian-brokered ceasefire agreement.
Rajapaksa's remarks came as heavy fighting raged in the districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, the last of the strongholds of the LTTE in the island's north.
The LTTE has been fighting to carve out a separate state for Tamils in the north and east of the island for a quarter century.