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 Post subject: Tamil leader denies funding terrorist group
 Post Posted: Fri May 18, 2007 5:56 pm 
Tamil leader denies funding terrorist group

World Tamil movement; Considers Sri Lankan guerrillas to be 'freedom fighters'

Graeme Hamilton
@ National Post /Friday, May 18, 2007


MONTREAL - The head of an organization that is suspected of funding the Tamil Tigers terrorist group has testified that he considers the Tigers "freedom fighters" and he supports their "activities that would benefit the people." But he denied that his organization, the World Tamil Movement, has sent money to the Sri Lankan guerillas.

In Quebec Court testimony that concluded yesterday, Kathiravelupillai Sithamparanathan, the 84-year-old president of the World Tamil Movement's Montreal office, acknowledged attending a 2004 workshop in Sri Lanka organized by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers.

Mr. Sithamparanathan said he could not refuse the Tigers' invitation to attend a Seminar for Foreign Activists during a trip to his native Sri Lanka in July 2004. "They wanted to meet me because they were impressed that a person my age was doing many things ... to help my community here," he said through an interpreter.

He acknowledged that on one day of the seminar he was given the honour of hoisting the red Tamil Tiger flag, which features a snarling tiger over two crossed rifles. "Many people forced me to do that, and I couldn't refuse," he said.

The testimony came as the RCMP sought court approval to keep for another year materials seized during an April, 2006, raid on World Tamil Movement offices in Montreal while its investigation continues. The RCMP has alleged in an affidavit that the Montreal organization strong-arms local Tamils to fund the LTTE, which Canada listed as a terrorist organization last year. No charges have been laid yet.

Normally police are able to withhold seized material for up to a year without laying charges, but a judge can approve an extension if the complexity of the investigation warrants it. The World Tamil Movement is contesting the request for an extension. A similar extension was recently granted for a parallel investigation into World Tamil Movement operations in Toronto.

The court heard evidence that the Montreal office of the World Tamil Movement, which bills itself as a cultural organization, was filled with Tiger paraphernalia. In one of the main rooms, a large portrait of LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran dominated one wall, a large stuffed tiger sat atop a television and the Tamil Tiger flag stood next to the Quebec and Canadian flags.

Mr. Sithamparanathan said video cassettes at his group's office on Van Horne Avenue contained only songs about Sri Lanka. But the Crown later entered into evidence photos of some of the material seized, which included one film about Mr. Prabhakaran titled Battle History of the Leader of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and another celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Sea Tigers, the LTTE's naval component.

A photo was also produced showing Mr. Sithamparanathan placing the Tiger flag over the body of a deceased community member at a funeral last January. Asked about his view of Mr. Prabhakaran, the witness called him "a freedom fighter" who is "organizing a struggle to win the rights of the people in Sri Lanka." Asked whether the World Tamil Movement supports the LTTE, he replied: "Actions that would benefit people, the right actions, yes."

He repeatedly denied any financial connection between the two organizations. Federal Justice Department lawyer Line Decarie produced a letter suggesting there are ties between the groups. Signed by Mr. Sithamparanathan and others from the World Tamil Movement, it was a "humble request" to the LTTE's international secretariat, asking that the secretariat reconsider a decision to change the responsibilities of a top Tamil official in Montreal. Mr. Sithamparanathan acknowledged that the LTTE may have dictated the change in the administrative structure of the Montreal office.

The Tamil Tigers, which human rights groups accuse of enlisting child soldiers and using suicide bombers against civilian targets, are fighting for independence for Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority. In an affidavit used to obtain a search warrant, RCMP officer Denis Boudreau said some members of the World Tamil Movement in Montreal are "known as Tamil Tigers." He said people from the Tamil community "are intimidated by them and feel obliged to give donations, as they know that these individuals are in fact working for the LTTE."

Steven Slimovtich, the lawyer for the World Tamil Movement, said his clients are not accused of any crime, and the prolonged investigation is causing them prejudice because their regular activities have been interrupted.

"It is not a crime yet in Canada to say you're in favour of a group that may be terrorist. What is a crime is to finance a terrorist group," he told the court.

"The government has ostensibly closed down this community, cultural, social, sports organization. They cannot function."


Ghamilton@nationalpost.com


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