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Tamil rebels may be using Canada as base of operations: Officiall


OTTAWA — Security intelligence authorities are warning that exiled Tamil rebel leaders are re-establishing their violent Sri Lankan separatist movement in Canada.

"We don't know how far advanced it is, but their intent is pretty clear — to set up a base-in-exile here for the leadership. Some leadership is already here," a well-placed federal government official told the Ottawa Citizen.

The warning accompanied a report late last week to senior government officials revealing that two southeast Asian smuggling syndicates are arranging the launch of two more shiploads of Tamil migrants to British Columbia in the coming weeks. The boats are expected to carry as many as 50 former Tamil Tiger rebel leaders and fighters, according to intelligence estimates.

"Why here? It doesn't make any sense because it is much easier to go to Australia," said the official. "This is the reason." Two previous cargo ships, Sun Sea and Ocean Lady, arrived off the West Coast last year and in 2009 carrying a total of 568 migrants, including several men the government suspects are former rebels.

"How many have made it through, how advanced they are is not clear, (but) we're concerned," said the official. "Canadians expect us to avoid becoming a haven for terrorists."

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, were defeated in 2009 after waging a three-decade civil war for independence. The group has been outlawed in Canada since 2006.

Human rights groups and Canadian Tamils urge compassion for the migrants and have called for a broader public understanding of the complex political situation in Sri Lanka. As members of Sri Lanka's Tamil minority, many of the men are fleeing persecution and face torture or death if returned to their homeland, they say.

The Canada Border Services Agency has alleged that at least 14 of the MV Sun Sea migrants are inadmissible to Canada due to membership in a terrorist organization. An Immigration and Refugee Board spokeswoman says admissibility hearings for those individuals could begin next month.

In all, about 225 out of the 380 men and about 57 out of the 63 women from Sun Sea have been ordered released. Many of those releases have been stayed because the government appealed them in Federal Court. The remaining 49 are children, who were not detained, but remained with their detained parents.

David Poopalapillai, national spokesman for the Canadian Tamil Congress, said federal officials have yet to make public any evidence that "hard-core" LTTE militants are among the migrants or establishing themselves in Canada.

"Until there is clear, concrete evidence to back up these claims, responsible officials should reserve judgment," he said. "It causes anxiety, it hurts the community and we're very disturbed. It's a stigma."

Poopalapillai said the organization has no knowledge of more illegal migrant ships, and if the government wants to stop the arrivals, it should process potential Tamil refugees in Southeast Asia and expedite the two to four years Canadian families now typically wait to sponsor immigrating relatives.

Finally, he said, the Harper government should pressure Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to reduce the oppression and improve the poor living conditions Tamils there continue to suffer.

Soon after the war ended, the pro-rebel Tamilnet website published an LTTE statement that it was establishing a "transnational" government among the group's overseas diaspora to carry on their political struggle.

No countries were named, but Canada is home to the largest Tamil diaspora, estimated to number 300,000. The vast majority live peacefully, mostly around Toronto.

Still, that makes Canada one of the few places in the world where "LTTE terrorists and supporters might seek to hide in plain sight, and potentially launch terrorist activities," RCMP Commissioner William Elliott noted in a 2009 speech.

"Remember that in its aspirations for a Sikh homeland, the Babbar Khalsa had no specific grievance with Canada. However, their activists and sympathizers here both conceived and carried out the Air India bombing. The result was the world's worst terrorist attack involving aircraft before the fall of 2001, and the worst mass murder in Canadian history," Elliott said.

Violence is not the only concern. Experience shows immigrant communities are often threatened and intimidated by exiled militants into supporting, financially and otherwise, violent causes in their homelands. There's also a risk of radicalization of the community's youth.

The Harper government is expected to push its proposed anti-smuggling legislation when the House of Commons resumes sitting Jan. 31.

The new law, which the opposition has vowed to vote down, would toughen jail terms and fines for those found guilty of human smuggling and penalize asylum seekers who are deemed to have paid human smugglers to get them to Canada. Previous migrants have paid $40,000 to $50,000.

Migrants also could be detained for a year or more without review and they would be barred from becoming permanent residents for five years, even if their refugee claim is accepted.

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