For the nearly 80,000 Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka currently living in France, news of Tiger leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran’s apparent death was met with shock, anger and widespread concern over the fates of their loved ones back home.
A pall of gloom has descended on the normally bustling streets of the La Chapelle neighbourhood in Paris, a busy commercial area crammed with Sri Lankan shops, restaurants and businesses shortly after the Sri Lankan military announced that Tamil Tiger chief Vellupillai Prabhakaran had been killed.
On busy rue Perdonnet, shops and restaurants have been closed since Monday when rumors of Prabhakaran’s death started to spread.
A few establishments put up copies of Channel 4’s interview with Tamil Tiger spokesman Selvarajah Pathmanathan, which was printed on the TV station’s Web site. In the interview, Pathmanathan affirmed that the leader of the Tamil Tigers was still alive.
'Prabhakaran was our chief'
In the streets, bystanders were warily awaiting confirmation of the news. “People are sad because Prabhakaran was our chief and because he fought fiercely for us,” confided Sandy, a native of the northern Sri Lankan town of Jaffna, who runs a food store in the area.
“Bear in mind,” adds a young woman, “some of our parents dream of returning home,” she said, referring to "Eelam" or the Sri Lankan Tamil dream of an independent homeland in the north of the island. “But this morning, all the newspapers say that they do not have a country any more.”
On the broad avenue leading to the magnificent Invalides, where Napoleon lies buried, people demonstrate against the “genocide” and “war crimes” committed by the Sri Lankan military in their recent military operation against the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) rebels. The tone here is belligerent.
Sitting on the lawns of the French parliament, brandishing the Tigers' trademark red and black flags, dozens of families have gathered to voice their despair. There are frequent parallels drawn to Rwanda and Darfur. “Stop killing our children,” they shout. “We are not terrorists," “France, President Sarkozy, help us please!” read some of the slogans.
‘The international community has failed us’
"It’s absolutely necessary to save the civilians still trapped in the war zone,” says Namratha, a 20-year-old student born in France to Sri Lankan parents. “There is nobody on the spot to look after the casualties or observe what is going on. The state is burning bodies and clearing up the area to erase all traces of the massacres."
Independent journalists and international observers have not been allowed into the conflict zone since the Sri Lankan army launched its military operation against the Tamil Tigers, making it hard to corroborate the claims of either side. While faulting both the Sri Lankan military and the Tigers for civilian casualties, the UN has described the situation in the conflict zone as a “bloodbath”.
The reaction of the international community in particular, is harshly criticised. Kumar, a young man of Tamil origin protesting on the parliament lawn, is visibly distressed. He says he has lost seven family members in Sri Lanka over the past six months. Kumar believes the international community shares the responsibility for his loss.
“The international community has failed us. It was the international community that led us to negotiate, which led to the disappearance of Tamil people, “said Kumar, referring to the 2002 Norwegian-led negotiations, which led to a ceasefire between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan authorities. In 2006, following the collapse of the peace process, the European Union, like the US and Canada, included the LTTE in its list of terrorist organisations.
Kumar, who arrived in France in 1993, is part of the 80,000 Tamil refugees in France. And with the latest news of Prabhakaran’s death, he fears that he will have to stay here for some time since their Tiger has lost its bite.
Date created : 2009-05-19