Tamil Tigers extorting money from Canadian families: report
Agents of the Tamil Tigers are using threats and other intimidation tactics to extort money from Sri Lankans living in Canada, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.
Even an official that works for a group that looks into human rights violations against Sri Lankans said he's been a victim of extortion.
Namu Ponnambalam said Wednesday that he's felt the pressure put on others.
"When they approached me, they asked for money," Ponnambalam said. "When I refused, they said basically, 'You have to wait until you go back to Sri Lanka. You will be punished for it.' "
"So in other words, [I] will be killed by them," he said.
Human Rights Watch is accusing the Tamil Tigers of targeting Tamils living abroad in a worldwide fundraising campaign that began last October.
For more than 20 years, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been fighting a war of independence on behalf of ethnic Tamils against the Sinhalese-dominated government of Sri Lanka.
Although many Tamils in Canada give money to the group willingly, Human Rights Watch director Jo Becker says those who refuse are sometimes threatened.
"In some cases, people are telling me that if they refuse, they will 'have to learn a lesson,' " Becker said.
"People are aware enough of the LTTE's history of violence. They do what is asked without question because they fear for their family."
The report said the donation drive has been targeting families in Toronto, which is home to an estimated one-third of the 600,000 to 800,000 Tamils who live outside Sri Lanka.
Working in pairs, fundraisers come directly to the homes of Tamil families to solicit donations. They reportedly say they are collecting for "the final war against the Sri Lankan government," despite a ceasefire that has been in place since 2002 in the island nation, which is located off the southeastern tip of India.
- FROM FEB. 23, 2006: Sri Lanka, Tamil Tigers renew ceasefire
Based on a family's estimated wealth, the fundraisers demand donations ranging from $2,500 to $5,000.
Tamil-owned businesses are asked for up to $100,000, and a trustee at one Hindu temple told Becker that fundraisers had demanded the temple come up with $1 million.
"Tamils unable to pay say they have been told by LTTE fundraisers to borrow the money, make a contribution on their credit card or even re-mortgage their home," Human Rights Watch said in a news release.
"One individual, who was unemployed when approached by the Tigers, was told that he should cut out one meal a day to enable him to give to the LTTE. "
If the money isn't handed over, Becker said, Tamils are warned that they won't be allowed into Tiger-controlled areas if they return to Sri Lanka to visit relatives.
"They have to make a choice of giving money they can't afford or [facing] the prospect of never seeing their family again."
Canada is a signatory to a United Nations resolution that designates the LTTE as a terrorist group.
Becker said police in Canada are doing little to stop what she calls a criminal extortion racket designed to fund "political killings and the recruitment of children as soldiers in Sri Lanka."
However, she added that their hands may be tied because almost no one from the Tamil community is willing to come forward to press charges.