Tamils in Canada urge Modi to pressure Sri Lanka

Toronto (IANS): Welcoming Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Colombo, a leading Tamil group in Canada – home to the largest Tamil diaspora outside Sri Lanka – has urged him to put pressure on new President Maithiripala Sirisena to resolve the dragging ethnic issue.

“By undertaking (the first bilateral) visit after 28 years by an Indian leader to Sri Lanka, Modi has shown his personal commitment to resolving the issues faced by the people in Sri Lanka, particularly the Tamils in the north and east,” the Canadian Tamil Congress said in a statement.

“Given the recent change of leadership in Sri Lanka, Modi’s timely visit could serve as a meaningful step towards bringing lasting peace in Sri Lanka, especially since his visit will include a trip to the Northern Province, something no previous Indian prime minister has done,” it said.

The group said Sri Lanka has consistently ignored calls by human rights organisations to allow the return of Tamil refugees, restore their lands, release detainees and end demilitarization of the north and east.

“But we are hopeful this important and timely visit by Modi will help expedite the early resolution of the needs of Tamil people in Sri Lanka and hopefully contribute towards rebuilding war-torn areas,” it said.

Welcoming Sirisena’s steps towards reconciliation by visiting the northeast and replacing military officials with civilian governors, the statement said: “But the real work surrounding accountability and justice for mass crimes committed during the war have not yet been addressed.”

The Canadian Tamil Congress said the present situation provided a unique opportunity to bring about a lasting political solution to the Sri Lankan crisis.

“We request Prime Minister Modi to urge the Sri Lankan government to embrace this opportunity and engage the elected Tamil representatives from TNA (Tamil National Alliance).

“We also hope that Modi and Sirisena can use this opportunity to come to a viable solution for the fishermen’s issue in a manner that can be reasonable to all parties involved in the conflict.”

Sri Lanka routinely arrests fishermen from India for intruding into Sri Lankan water. Indian authorities too arrest Sri Lankan fishermen. This has often led to conflict — and occasionally resulted in deaths.

There are over 300,000 Sri Lankan Tamils in Canada – their largest concentration outside Sri Lanka.