Wed Mar 15, 2006 12:48 PM IST
COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels are extorting money from Tamils living in Canada, Britain and Europe to fill their coffers for a final war against the island’s government, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have threatened expatriate Tamils and their families with violence unless they contribute often thousands of dollars to the Tiger cause, the rights group said in a report.
"The Tamil Tigers are exporting the terrors of war to Tamils living in the West," said Jo Becker, author of the report ‘Funding the final war: LTTE intimidation and extortion in the Tamil diaspora’ posted on the watchdog’s Web site, www.hrw.org.
"Many members of the diaspora actively support the Tamil Tigers. But the culture of fear is so strong that even Tamils who don’t support them still feel they have no choice but to give money," Becker added.
The Tigers, who fought a two-decade war against Sri Lanka in which more than 64,000 people died before a 2002 truce and demand wide autonomy and a separate Tamil homeland, have long been accused of forcing minority Tamils to fund them.
Hundreds of thousands of Tamils fled to countries such as Britain, Canada, Switzerland, Norway and Australia to escape the war, and many have been told they can only visit relatives back home as long as they pay up first, the rights group said.
The rebels were not immediately available for comment on the report, which comes as both government and Tigers accuse each other of attacks and abductions ahead of a second round of peace talks next month seen as vital to avert a return to war.
"Tamils unable to pay say they have been told by LTTE fundraisers to borrow the money, make a contribution by credit card, or even re-mortgage their homes," the report said.
"One individual who was unemployed when approached by the Tigers was told that he should cut out one meal per day to enable him to give to the LTTE," it added.
Human Rights Watch said the Tigers mounted their strong-armed funding drive in December and January, when dozens of soldiers and sailors were killed in a series of attacks on military convoys that raised the spectre of renewed war.
Some analysts fear the Tigers have been using the truce to regroup and rearm in preparation for a final push to carve out a separate homeland in the north and east, where the rebels already run a de facto state with their own law courts and police.
Few in the rebel-dominated north dare to speak out against the Tigers, and their fear has spread to Tamil communities abroad, Human Rights Watch said.
"Sri Lankan Tamils living in the West fear that if they speak out about Tamil Tiger abuses, they may put themselves and their families at risk," Becker said.
"Despite the diaspora’s size and potential influence on LTTE practices, the Tamil Tigers’ threats, intimidation, and even violence have effectively stifled dissent."