[lg policy] Tamils in Britain and Canada vow to sustain Sri Lanka struggle (fwd)
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Tue Jun 2 19:39:21 UTC 2009
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Date: Thu, 21 May 2009 16:46:27 -0400
From: Harold Schiffman <hfsclpp at gmail.com>
Reply-To: Language Policy List <lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu>
To: lp <lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu>
Subject: [lg policy] Tamils in Britain and Canada vow to sustain Sri Lanka
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.
By Ben Quinn | Correspondent
and Nachammai Raman | Correspondent
from the May 21, 2009 edition
Babu/ReutersLondon; 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. 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
"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." Among those camped outside of
Parliament this week was Yalini Naguleashwaran, a teenager who left
Sri Lanka with her family at the age of 5 and who has been unable to
return because of the war. "People have been really desperate over the
past few weeks, not knowing if their relatives are dead or alive," she
says. "We get reports of people going missing from the camps.
"Members of my own extended family were inside the zone and we don't
know what has happened to them." To date, the British government
itself has been active on the world stage, calling for a cease-fire in
recent weeks between the LTTE and Sri Lankan forces. But protesters
in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, attacked the British High
Commission Monday and burned an effigy of David Miliband, the foreign
secretary, accusing Britain of supporting the rebels.
Quebec as a model for Tamils?
Across the Atlantic in Canada, home to the world's largest Sri Lankan
Tamil diaspora, community leaders are holding up Quebec as a path for
resolving Sri Lanka's ethnic problem.
"This model of autonomy could work for us," says Ramani Balendra, an
ethnic Tamil from Sri Lanka who is a member of the Tamil Action
Committee that has been organizing protests in recent weeks.
Members of the diaspora in Canada haven't been the only ones to
propose this. In a BBC interview, R. Sambandan, a legislator with the
Tamil National Alliance, a party backed by the Tamil Tigers, lauded
Canada's asymmetrical federalism. "The French-speaking people [of
Canada] are recognized as a distinct society and have a federal
arrangement in which in the areas of their competence, they are
Sympathy for the Sri Lankan Tamil struggle has in fact been highest
among Quebec's nationalist intellectuals, according to Narendra
Balasubramanian, an associate professor of political science at McGill
University who has been studying the conflict. "The Quebec
nationalists feel an affinity with Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism," he
Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon earlier this week said Canada was
prepared to assist Sri Lankan efforts to "find political
reconciliation and a lasting peace."
Raising money for refugees, not war
Professor Balasubramanian, however, says Canada's role will be limited
to humanitarian assistance, and perhaps monitoring. Tamils have
already approached the Canadian chapters of CARE and the Red Cross to
provide relief for the displaced.
According to Balasubramanian, any money the diaspora now raises will
be for the rehabilitation of refugees, and not to revive the armed
struggle. "These people are half a world away. It would be tough for
them to build up insurgents in Sri Lanka," he says.
Ms. Balendra insists the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers isn't the
end of the road. Reports of human rights abuses in the war zone, she
says, have deepened the community's desire for a homeland. "Even
people who never came out before are coming out and saying, 'We need a
land of our own.' "
University student Vinoth Navajeevanantha belongs to a generation of
Sri Lankan Tamils born and brought up abroad, but he shows a
passionate interest in the fate of his parents' homeland. "I might
have been brought up here, but [the Tamils of Sri Lanka] are my
people," he says, adding that the conflict could reignite if the
Tamils are not given their rights in Sri Lanka. "When you have a
people that aren't being heard, it creates a need for rebellion."
A political struggle
Balendra thinks the new struggle will be political rather than armed.
She emphasizes the need for a foreign mediator in finding a lasting
solution. "I feel Canada should be the country because it has the
largest diaspora." Canada has an estimated population of 300,000 Sri
Balasubramanian isn't sure how far Ottawa will be drawn into all of
this. "The Sri Lankan diaspora is an important lobby group, but it
doesn't dictate government policies."
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