Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Canada a key source of Tamil Tiger funding

Stewart Bell, National Post
Canada was one of the top sources of funding for Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers rebels, providing up to $12-million a year, says a secret intelligence report obtained by the National Post.

The Tamil Tigers were defeated in May, ending Sri Lanka's long civil war, but in a classified report last year federal officials wrote that the rebels were getting much of their money from Canada.

The rebels are also known as the LTTE.

"Canada's Tamil community has been among the LTTE's largest sources of funds, having contributed up to $10- to $12-million annually in past years," the report says.

A copy of the report was released to the Post under the Access to Information Act. It was written last June, during the final months of a decisive Sri Lankan military offensive.

Until recently, the Tamil Tigers controlled a quarter of Sri Lanka, a former British colony once known as Ceylon, situated off the southern tip of India. The rebels were fighting for independence for the country's ethnic Tamil minority, a cause shared by many in Toronto's large Canadian Tamil diaspora.

The RCMP began investigating Tamil Tigers fundraising efforts in Canada in 2002. Police believe the rebels raised money in Toronto and Montreal to finance weapons purchases, but investigators have never said the dollar figures were so high.

"The LTTE through its many front organizations in other countries, including Canada, has conducted extensive fundraising and other activities to support its efforts in Sri Lanka," the report says.

The tactics used to collect money were "often coercive," it said, naming the Toronto-based World Tamil Movement as the rebels' leading front in Canada.

"As such, the WTM has been instrumental in fundraising in Canada on behalf of the LTTE."

Police searched the World Tamil Movement offices in Ontario and Quebec in 2006. Last year, the government banned the group under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Federal lawyers are now in court trying to seize its properties and bank accounts. The organization has denied any wrongdoing.

The Intelligence Assessment was written by the Ottawa-based Integrated Threat Assessment Centre, which consists of representatives of CSIS, RCMP, Foreign Affairs, the military and other agencies.

A second intelligence report written last year downplayed the possibility of violence in Canada stemming from the Sri Lankan war, noting rebel activities in this country were limited to fundraising and propaganda. "The LTTE's primary interest in Canada is as a major source of funds, mostly contributed by the large Canadian Tamil population," said the report, classified "Secret" and titled "LTTE Threat to Canada."

In May, demonstrators waving flags bearing the Tamil Tigers emblem blocked streets in downtown Toronto to draw attention to human rights abuses by the Sri Lanka Army. A Buddhist temple and Sri Lankan restaurant suffered fire damage but police have not made any arrests.

The civil war ended May 18, after the Army captured thousands of rebels and killed their top leaders. Some 300,000 ethnic Tamils are now detained in government-run camps, awaiting permission to return to their homes.

Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs says four Canadians are among them. George Julius of Brampton, Ont., is being held at a camp for ex-combatants. His parents said he left Canada in 2007 to visit his aunt and find a bride in the rebel capital Kilinochchi.

From the camp where he is now held, he told British journalist Kath Noble he had been forced to join the rebels. Another Briton, Felix Vicet said he had also met the Canadian.

"In the course of this conversation he mentioned the fact that he had come to Kilinochchi to visit relatives and had been forcibly recruited by the LTTE," he wrote in a letter.

Mr. Vicet wrote that Mr. Julius "seemed keen to talk" and that the "the conversation was entirely free." But the Canadian Tamil Congress has detainee confessions should be treated with caution since they could have been made under duress.

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