Tamil Canadians want Ottawa to press Sri Lanka
Published Tuesday, May 19, 2009 5:13PM EDT
Some Tamil-Canadians say the military war in Sri Lanka might be over, but protests in Toronto will continue to show support for humanitarian aid and human rights for Tamils there.
"Now more than ever, Tamil Canadians need to hear from our Prime Minister that human rights and justice are universal standards that all democratic nations must abide by," said David Poopalaipillai, national spokesperson for the Canadian Tamil Congress, in a news release.
The group wants Prime Minister Stephen Harper to tell the government of Sri Lanka that it must allow aid groups, media and independent monitors to the conflict zone in the northeast part of the island nation located off the south tip of India.
Any aid funding should go to reputable organizations rather than the Sri Lankan government, it said.
The congress also wants Canada to support a call by the European Union for a commission of inquiry to investigate alleged war crimes.
In a statement released Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Canada would work with the United States helping the United Nations deliver humanitarian aid to Sri Lanka. He also expressed condolences for those who have lost family members in the fighting.
Sri Lanka's government has declared victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which has been fighting for a separate homeland for Tamils for more than a quarter-century.
Sri Lankan government troops had launched a final offensive against the rebels that culminated with the announcement Monday that LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was dead.
Some protesters in Toronto on Monday refused to believe that Prabhakaran was actually dead. The LTTE claims that Prabhakaran is still alive, but has offered no proof.
What isn't in dispute is that the conflict zone is a humanitarian disaster area.
The UN office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that more than 50,000 people were still in the area.
In addition, it estimates there are already 220,000 people inside Internally Displaced Persons camps as a result of the fighting.
The congress claims more than 15,000 Tamils have been killed and another 50,000 injured in the fighting of the past five months.
Sri Lankan forces had extensively used artillery as it attempted to crush the LTTE. Cannon has described the effect of the fighting on civilians as "appalling."
On Monday, Poopalaipillai told The Globe and Mail his group would like to see Ottawa fast-track the relatives of Tamil-Canadians as refugee claimants.
A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the government is "expediting" applications from the danger zone and is attempting to help "mitigate the humanitarian catastrophe."
The congress also wants to see Ottawa pressure the Sri Lankan government to reach a political settlement with the Tamil minority.
"We must find a homegrown solution to this conflict. That solution should be acceptable to all the communities," Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa told his country in a televised speech to the country's parliament on Tuesday.
"Canada urges the government of Sri Lanka to begin to find a long-term political solution that responds to the legitimate aspirations of all the people of Sri Lanka. Canada is prepared to assist Sri Lankan efforts to find political reconciliation and a lasting peace," Cannon said.
With a report from CTV Toronto's Reshmi Nair