Tamils seeking Canada's help

By: Brett Clarkson

RALLY APPEALS TO OTTAWA TO PLAY A BIG ROLE IN PEACE TALKS

THOUSANDS OF local Tamils proudly displayed Tamil Tiger flags yesterday during a massive rally urging Canada to play a prominent role in the stalled Sri Lankan peace talks. Organized by the Canadian Tamil Students Association, the first local "Pongu Thamil" demonstration drew 10,000 Tamils to Queen's Park yesterday.

"It's come to a point where our community is frustrated with this war," Parthi Kandavel said. "Our main agenda is peace -- and we understand both sides have committed wrongs -- but the key is for dialogue between the two parties."

Talks between the majority-Sinhalese Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam stalled in 2003 after a Norway-brokered peace agreement began in December 2001.

Decades of fighting on the island nation south of India has left tens of thousands dead, while hundreds of thousands of Tamils have fled the country. Nearly 200,000 live in the GTA.

Organizers and attendants spoke openly and passionately yesterday about the allegations of terrorism constantly dogging the Tamil Tigers, an organization viewed by the majority of Tamils not as terrorists, but as freedom fighters representing the community during the peace process.

While Canada hasn't officially condemned the Tamil Tigers, the group is on the U.S. State Department's terror list.

Even before yesterday's rally, an anonymous press release circulated to local media accused the student organizers of being a front for terrorism.

"It's a free country, we respect their right to express their opinions," said organizer Ashwin Balamohan, 21.

"We're confident in what we're saying and that's why we're out here saying it."

The students' call on Ottawa to play a role in the Sri Lankan peace process was supported by many at the demonstration, which remained peaceful.

"The government of Canada has always been in the forefront of peacemaking, and therefore we want them to be very involved," said Father Xavier J. Francis, 76. "If the Tamils and the Sinhalese can meet in Oslo, if they can meet in Japan, why can't they meet in Ottawa or in Toronto?"

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