Tamils in Britain and Canada vow to sustain Sri Lanka struggle
In both countries, home to large Tamil communities, a new focus on using democratic means to address grievances.
London; and Toronto
After weeks of watching from a distance as relatives and loved ones were caught up in Sri Lanka's final offensive against Tamil separatists, many in the world's Tamil diaspora are now in mourning.Skip to next paragraph
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But in Britain and Canada – home to some of the largest concentrations of Sri Lankan Tamils abroad – communities are mobilizing to play a part in what leaders describe as a new phase in their struggle for an independent homeland.
Following the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers, the talk now is of employing democratic means to address Tamil concerns. That goal could be tested, however, by a growing number of young expatriate Tamils who have become radicalized by the oppression of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Like others around the world, British Tamils say their priority is the welfare of tens of thousands of refugees following the end of fierce fighting in a small area in northern Sri Lanka. They want the Red Cross and nongovernmental organizations to be allowed access to their camps, where they say the Sri Lankan military has no role to play.
British Tamils have always donated generously to Tamil charities, but not without controversy. Last month, a British Tamil leader was found guilty of supplying bombmaking equipment for the Tamil Tigers.
Arunachalam Chrishanthakumar, a London property developer who was head of the United Tamil Organization in Britain until it was proscribed seven years ago, had been given a warning by the British authorities in 2004 after buying boots and handcuffs for the Tamil Tigers' police force.
In the past, Tamil immigrants have claimed that they were being intimidated into handing over "donations" of up to £50,000 ($79,000) to support the Tigers.
Radicalizing a generation
Suren Surendiran, a spokesman for the British Tamils Forum, an umbrella organization, says that in the longer term, the events of recent weeks have radicalized the younger generation of Tamils abroad.
"The first phase of the fight for freedom, from 1948 to 1983, was about political negotiations," he adds. "Then, the armed struggle from 1983 until last week ensured that the oppression and discrimination of Tamil people was highlighted on an international stage.
Mr. Surendiran says that a third phase has now arrived. He adds that this will involve the Tamil diaspora pursuing its goal through political and democratic channels, the ultimate goal being a Tamil homeland in some form.
A new generation will play a crucial role. "Second generation Tamils who were born overseas have now become separatists in a way that they were probably not before," he says. "They live and breathe the culture in which they were born into and they will approach the struggle from that perspective."
Driving force behind protests
Young second-generation Tamils have been the driving force behind a largely peaceful occupation of Parliament Square, in front of the House of Commons, although protesters have clashed with police when hundreds of demonstrators attempted to block traffic during peaks in the recent fighting in Sri Lanka.
Scuffles have broken out as police confiscated flags bearing images representing the LTTE (The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), a group outlawed in Britain.
Michael Martin, who resigned Tuesday as speaker of the House of Commons, has accused the protesters of "hijacking" Parliament Square and preventing others from "exercising their democratic duty to demonstrate."
Thusiyan Nandakumar, of Students Against Genocide of Tamils (SAGT), said: "With the fall of the LTTE militarily, the British government has no excuse but to act. They kept calling the Tigers 'terrorists,' but now this is about the plight of thousands of civilians.
"It's true that this has changed us. I know of a lot of people who might have been even anti-LTTE in the past, and even they are talking about taking up guns.... At the same time, people can see that the armed struggle was necessary."