(AFP) – Mar 16, 2009
BRUSSELS (AFP) — Thousands of supporters of a Tamil state protested in Brussels Monday against "genocide" by the Sri Lankan government, urging the European Union to send observers to see the situation on the ground.
"The Sri Lankan soldiers are killing 50 Tamil every day, and that is just in the so-called 'protected areas'," said Siva Ram, a Tamil protester from Paris.
Organisers put the turnout at around 30,000 although police put the figure at 5,000.
"We want to tell the world and Europe to stop the genocide in Sri Lanka," said Suveetsan Sivapula, from Germany.
The noisy protest, organised by the Tamil Youth Organisation, took place 100 metres from where EU foreign ministers were meeting in Brussels' European quarter.
Also on Monday, more than 10,000 Sri Lankan Tamils demonstrated outside the UN's European headquarters in Geneva, accusing the world body of complicity in the "genocide" of Tamils, police said.
An association for Tamils in Switzerland, the Tamil Forum, released a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemning what it called the evacuation of civilians in Sri Lanka and their placing in "army detention camps".
Last month, EU foreign ministers called for an immediate ceasefire between the Sri Lankan security forces and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to allow aid in to and civilians out of the conflict zone in the north of the country.
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner expressed disappointment that the call had not been heeded.
"The situation there is really very, very dangerous," she told reporters after the ministers' meeting.
"Approximately 170,000 people, it seems civilian people, are being trapped in the north part of Sri Lanka and neither the Sri Lankan government nor the LTTE have until now accepted our appeal for an immediate ceasefire," she said.
The EU official said she hoped a mission from the European Union nations and the European Commission would be able to visit the area to assess the situation.
The Sri Lankan military says it has surrounded the Tiger rebels in a narrow strip of land and expects to soon end the guerrillas' decades-long armed struggle for an independent Tamil homeland.
A Sri Lankan diplomat in Brussels said the demonstration here displayed the "desperation of the LTTE who are now confined to a 35-square-kilometre region".
More worrying for the EU ministers, he added, was that the protest also shows the group's strength in Europe, even as its power wains in Sri Lanka.
"That there is this kind of gathering shows the capacity of the LTTE in Europe and that is something Europe should be worried about."
Government forces shot dead at least 32 Tamil Tiger rebels in north-eastern Sri Lanka, the defence ministry in Colombo said Sunday, as troops moved closer to finally defeating the separatist guerrillas.
Sri Lanka's army denies targeting the "safe zone" and in turn accuses the Tigers of fabricating reports of large scale civilian deaths.
The UN believes 150,000 to 180,000 civilians remain trapped in the territory still under rebel control.
"What we want is for the European Union to send people into the 'safe zone' and see what is really happening there, not just listen to what Colombo is telling them and visiting the displacement camps," said another Tamil protester who would not give his name.
The Tamil supporters also called for the Tigers to be taken off international terrorist lists.
"The Tamils are the Tigers, the Tigers are the Tamils," Sivapula said.
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