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Indian Tamils demand end to Sri Lanka’s war

[AFP, Sunday, 1 February 2009 10:37 No Comment]

India’s large Tamil population is demanding that New Delhi ensure the safety of 250,000 of their brethren boxed into the battle zone in Sri Lanka’s north.

 

Protesters have poured into the streets in Tamil Nadu state, home to 62 million Indian Tamils, in the past week to call for a ceasefire in the conflict and assurances about the safety of their fellow Tamils in the island nation.

 

"Our prime concern is the safety of the Tamils," in Sri Lanka, said K. Anbazhagan, a senior leader of Tamil Nadu’s ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) party and state finance minister.

 

Indian Tamils have dubbed the conflict a "race war" between Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils and the majority Sinhalese community in the tropical island, which is separated by sea from Tamil Nadu state.

The issue is a highly sensitive one in India as Sri Lanka’s Tamils share close cultural and religious links with the Tamils in Tamil Nadu, which is also home to thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees.

The DMK has been spearheading the campaign to ensure the estimated 250,000 Tamil civilians trapped in the war zone are protected and is pushing for a ceasefire.

 

It was at the party’s insistence that Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee rushed to Colombo last week to seek safety guarantees for the Tamils.

 

"Mukherjee’s trip was a first step but New Delhi must do more to bring about sustained peace for the Tamil people" and end the hostilities, DMK chief minister M. Karunanidhi said in Chennai, Tamil Nadu’s capital.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned that a major humanitarian crisis is unfolding in northern Sri Lanka. It has said "hundreds" of civilians have been killed this month and "scores" wounded.

The UN agency for children, UNICEF, has asked Sri Lanka’s government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to give "absolute priority" to the safety of children and the civilian population caught up in the fighting.

 

The regional opposition All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party has joined ranks with the DMK and other pro-Tamil regional groups to back the cause of the trapped civilians.

"All of us want this war to come to an end," said Tamil Nadu’s Congress chief Peter Alphonse.

On Friday, students, lawyers and political activists took to the streets in Chennai and elsewhere to draw attention to the plight of Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka while some hurled rocks at a Sri Lankan diplomatic mission and a Colombo-run bank.

 

The activists burnt Indian political figures in effigy, demanding intervention by India, a major arms supplier to Sri Lanka.

 

"Deep down, we Tamils feel resentment about what we see as persecution of our Sri Lankan brethren and as a result many of us look at the LTTE as saviours of a fallen race," said Chennai-based political analyst Raju Santhanam.

 

"We see this as a race war," he added.

 

Sri Lankan Tamil separatists say the Tamils are treated as second-class citizens by the island’s Sinhalese majority — a charge denied by Colombo.

 

An Indian Tamil man committed suicide in Chennai Thursday to protest against civilian casualties in Sri Lanka by pouring petrol on his clothes and setting himself ablaze after distributing anti-war pamphlets, police said.

 

Analysts say despite the pressure from Tamil Nadu parties, India may go easy in pressuring Colombo to declare a halt to the fighting.

 

India, which formerly trained and armed the LTTE, has adopted a hands-off approach to the conflict since its disastrous intervention in the 1980s.

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