As Sri Lankan troops mount their ‘final assault’ against the rebel Tamil Tigers, thousands of miles away the Tamil diaspora is drumming up support for the tens of thousands of distraught civilians caught in the fighting.
Lying wrapped in a blanket under a pavilion on Place de Trocadéro, opposite the Eiffel Tower in Paris, 39-year-old Alfred and three other Tamils have been on a hunger strike unto action for the past thirteen days.
Alfred, is one of the 70,000 Tamils living in Paris, worried about the growing humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka, with thousands of civilians trapped in the fighting between government forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels.
“We want an immediate ceasefire and humanitarian aid for the civilians in the conflict zone,” says Alfred. “I lost my mother and brother last week in army shelling in Putumattalan [the northeastern coastal area ] and my father and sister are among the trapped civilians.”
The Tamil diaspora across the European Union have been coordinating efforts to help their relatives and friends stuck in the conflict zone.
On Tuesday, hundreds of Tamils carrying Tamil Tiger flags and banners gathered on Place du Trocadero in central Paris. Women and children were among the protesters calling for ‘an end to Tamil genocide in Sri Lanka’. The rally was peaceful compared to protests the previous day, when more than 200 people were arrested in the French capital. In recent days, Tamil protesters have been staging similar rallies outside the British parliament in London.
International Tamil organisations such as the Tamil Youth Union and the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) have been urging people to contribute in any way possible.
“A ship with food, clothes, financial and medical aid will leave from London later this week,” 18-year-old Samantha Mahindaraja, a member of the Tamil Youth Union (TYU), told FRANCE 24.
Tamils abroad want the international community to interven, forcing Sri Lankan authorities to order a humanitarian ceasefire.
‘Civilians are paying the price’
“The military's targets are the Tamil Tigers, but the civilians are paying the price,” says 25-year-old Raman. Born and brought up in France, Raman says he’s grown up hearing about government atrocities against Tamil civilians back in his homeland.
Seventeen-year-old Roxane came to France six months ago to escape the violence in Mullativu, a former stronghold of the Tigers. “It was impossible to attend school because of the incessant military raids and bombardment. The Tamil Tigers tried to convince me to fight for the Tamil cause but I wanted to continue studying,” says Roxane, who now lives with his aunt Anne-Marie in Paris.
An estimated 50,000 people still remain trapped in the conflict zone, according to the International Red Cross.
"Ongoing fighting has killed or wounded hundreds of civilians who have only minimal access to medical care," Pierre Kraehenbuehl, director of operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday.
The ICRC has reiterated its call to Tamil Tiger rebels to let people flee the zone. It also urged the military to differentiate between military targets and civilians.
On Monday, the head of the rebels’ peace secretariat, Puleedevan, accused government forces of killing 1,000 people and wounding 2,000 through shelling.
Wing Commander Janak Nanayakkara, the Sri Lankan air force spokesperson, dismissed the claims as “baseless” in an interview with FRANCE 24 on Tuesday. “This is rubbish, in fact the the Tamil Tigers have been using these civilians as human shields,” Nanayakkara said.
Colombo has repeatedly rejected the Tamil Tigers' calls for a ceasefire, saying the rebels would misuse it to rearm, as they have done in the past.
Editor's note: Most of the people we spoke to preferred to give their first name only.
Date created : 2009-04-21