|Heroes' Day – or a terrorist fundraiser?|
|Thursday, 27 November 2008|
Commemoration of Tamil 'martyrs' linked with support for Tigers
By Jerome Taylor
Thousands of British Tamils will descend upon a major festival in London today despite accusations that it is a fundraising initiative for the Tamil Tigers, a banned terrorist group.
Opponents of the event say it provides money for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and has celebrated suicide missions carried out by the group's feared Black Tiger regiment. They believe the festival is illegal under Britain's anti-terrorism laws which prohibit fundraising for proscribed organisations, such as the Tigers, or glorifying their actions.
The annual Maveerar Naal (Heroes' Day) celebration is marked every November by supporters across the world and is timed to coincide with the birthday of the group's leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran – who is subject to international arrest warrants – and to mourn the 1982 shooting of a youth called Shankar – the first person to die for the organisation.
This year's main UK event takes place at the ExCel Centre in London's Docklands and is expected to draw an even bigger crowd than usual because of an onslaught by Sri Lankan military forces. Yesterday the Tigers were retreating from Kilinochchi, their administrative capital, which if captured would represent a devastating victory for the Sri Lankan government.
Dominic Whiteman, a specialist on Tamil fundraising at the centre-right think-tank the Centre for Social Cohesion, said the police should not allow the events to go ahead. "Without doubt the London Heroes' Day event has been a Tigers event where the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran's Heroes' Day speech has been made available by video link," Mr Whiteman said. "They are banned from congregating and this event should never be allowed to take place on British soil."
One of those expected to give a speech at the event is Vaiko Gopa-lasamy, a Tamil politician from India who makes no secret of his support for the Tigers and was granted a visa to enter Britain earlier this week.
The Metropolitan Police say they have consulted both the organisers and the ExCel centre and say "an appropriate policing plan" will be in place. The Independent understands that the traditional events celebrating Prabhakaran and suicide martyrs will be toned down or held in secret.
Nirmala Rajasingham, the founder of the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum and a staunch critic of the Tigers who she accuses of murdering her sister, said the British Government should do more to stop fundraising in Britain. "I am opposed to the Heroes' Day celebrations because it is a morbid celebration of the suicide cult and it is a fundraising event for the Tigers," she said. "The Tamil Tigers may have been banned but they continue to operate freely in Britain."
Some estimates suggest as much as 40 per cent of the Tamil Tigers' funding comes from Britain's 150,000 Tamils, although many are bitterly opposed to the terror group.
Mrs Rajasingham said it was important to recognise that not all those attending today's celebration would be Tamil Tiger supporters. "A lot of those attending will actually be against the LTTE but they will go anyway because they have had relatives and loved ones killed by the Sri Lankan government and want to remember them."
Nathan Kumar, an organiser of the event, denied the suggestion that they were fundraising for the Tamil Tigers. "It costs us £250,000 to host the ceremony so any money we make goes into the costs of hosting the event," he said. "So many Tamil lives have been affected by the war and everybody comes to mourn their dead."
Asked whether organisers would broadcast a speech by Prabhakaran if it was available tomorrow, Mr. Kumar said: "Prabhakaran is the only one who can decide the fate of Tamils so everyone will want to hear any speech he makes. If we can broadcast it, we will."
Sri Lanka's civil war: A 25-year conflict
If the government in Colombo is to be believed, the 25-year civil war in Sri Lanka may be nearing its final stages following a major offensive this week by government forces against the town of Kilinochchi, the Tamil Tigers' regional capital.
More than 70,000 people have been killed during one of the world's longest-running unresolved conflicts and for decades there have been claims of human rights abuses by both sides. Tamils began agitating for a separate state in the north and east of the island in the 1970s, accusing the majority Sinhalese government of discriminating against them. In 1983 civil war broke out.
The most recent round of peace talks broke down in 2006 and the past few months have seen some of the most concerted fighting in years with the Sri Lankan army determined to defeat the Tigers by the end of 2008. Even if Kilinochchi falls observers believe the Tigers will continue to fight a guerrilla campaign, resorting to suicide bombings and assassinations.
|Last Updated ( Thursday, 23 July 2009 )|
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