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Rage And Despair In Sri Lanka Tamil Diaspora Overseas – NASDAQ

[AFP, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 07:58 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s government has declared victory in one of Asia’s longest-running wars after killing the Tamil Tiger rebel leader, but it faces fury from the West’s million-strong ethnic Tamil diaspora.

Many of them fled in the 1980s, and some analysts describe them as more hard- line than Tamils who stayed in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan television Tuesday showed what it said was the body of Tiger chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, who once led a de facto state over a quarter of the island. He was recently shot trying to flee the last tiny lagoon in guerrilla hands.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, launched a campaign in 1972 to create a separate Tamil homeland in the Sinhalese-majority island, with much of the group’s funding coming from Tamils overseas.

The Tamil diaspora has held weeks of boisterous rallies demanding pressure on Sri Lanka by Western nations, which ban the LTTE as a terrorist group for carrying out hundreds of suicide bombings.

The biggest Tamil community abroad is in Toronto, where Canadian Tamil Congress spokesman David Poopalapillai vowed that the diaspora would now carry the torch of the movement.

"There is a sense of despair but we feel strongly that this is not the time to go cry and sit. This is the time to stand up," Poopalapillai said.

He called for the release of more than 200,000 Tamil noncombatants being held in camps and a U.N. inquiry into what he called war crimes in the finale of the conflict, which has claimed more than 70,000 lives.

He said Sri Lankan Tamils tried nonviolence after the island’s independence in 1948, and described the Tiger insurgency as a second phase.

"Phase three has just begun," Poopalapillai said. "Phase three is with the Tamil diaspora to take this struggle to another level. We want to hold the Sri Lankan government accountable."

One well-known Tamil in the West, U.K.-born rapper M.I.A., wrote an impassioned message on her blog voicing fear that "the Sri Lankan government is going (to) mass murder Tamils and tell the world that they haven’t done anything.

"All I know is that I certainly won’t be going on a holiday to Sri Lanka when the tourism ads start popping up in a few years, like nothing happened," wrote the Grammy-nominated artist.

Despite calls for action, a feeling of gloom hung over many activists in the Tamil diaspora.

"I certainly hope that the international community will recognize what has happened and take steps to protect the Tamil people now and in the future, but it’s very difficult to be optimistic," said Tasha Manoranjan, advocacy director of Washington-based campaign group People for Equality And Relief in Sri Lanka.

But Asoka Bandarage, a professor at Georgetown University and author of the recent book "The Separatist Conflict in Sri Lanka," said that the death of the Tamil Tiger leadership could offer hope if both Colombo and the diaspora seized on it.

She said the Tamil diaspora faced heavy pressure to offer money and support to the LTTE, which killed off Tamil rivals at home, forced children into guerrilla ranks and, in late stages of the conflict, allegedly used civilians as shields.

"Now is the opportunity for a more moderate leadership to emerge and for alternative voices to be heard. This is really an opportunity for all communities to put the past behind them," she said.

Ahilan Kadirgamar – a Tamil who helped start the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum, a diaspora group critical of both the Tigers and Colombo – said pro-LTTE Tamils abroad could aggravate Sinhalese nationalism if they didn’t change tack.

"Now that the LTTE has been decimated, the LTTE activists are in disarray because they don’t have a strategy going forward," said Kadirgamar, a fellow at the Asia Society in New York.

"There really needs to be a genuine debate within the diaspora to thrash out these issues and come to the recognition that this was really a disastrous adventure."

The Sinhalese community in Washington, meanwhile, plans a rally Saturday near the White House to call for reconciliation with Tamils.

[Full Coverage]

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