TORONTO // The north-eastern coast of Sri Lanka is nearly 14,000km away, but that government's military offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam resonates in Canada. For many of the 300,000 Tamils in this country, the distance is overwhelmed by concern and fear. Theepan Vigneswaran of Toronto lost contact with his aunt and her children in the Vanni region of northern Sri Lanka more than six weeks ago. "We have no clue whether they're living or whether they're just displaced," he said.
More than 2,000 people have been killed and a further 5,000 have been injured since the Sri Lankan civil war escalated last year, according to Human Rights Watch. The New York-based organisation claims that government forces perceive Tamils caught in the war zone as siding with the Tamil Tigers, and the government has put the displaced into military camps where they are denied freedom of movement. At the same time, the Tamil Tigers, facing defeat, have increased forced recruitment and forced labour of civilians, including shooting those attempting to flee.
Human rights groups say at least 70,000 civilians in Vanni are trapped between the cornered rebels and the Sri Lankan army. This phase of the three-decadcivil war has prompted an unprecedented response from Canadian Tamils, more than 200,000 of whom live in the Toronto area. On Jan 30, about 50,000 people formed a human chain in Toronto's downtown in protest against the Sri Lankan government's actions and asking Ottawa for assistance.
Canadian Tamil groups accuse Colombo of "genocide" against their family and friends. A "halt genocide" tour, led by the Canadian Humanitarian Appeal for the Relief of Tamils, is travelling to university campuses across the province of Ontario to meet with students and local members of parliament to gain their support. "We feel the Canadian community has been lacking the information on what really has been happening back home," said Shaminy Ratneswaran, a Toronto-based activist with the group. "It's our duty from the Tamil community to reach out and educate them in order for them to help us."