STUDENT FUNDS FEEDING TIGERS?

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By Sonja Puzic

One of Ryerson’s most active student groups in the southeast Asian tsunami relief efforts has chosen to donate its collections to an organization that has been linked to alleged terrorist activities in Sri Lanka.

Students who have responded to the Tamil Student Association’s appeal for help may not be comfortable knowing that their money is going to the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO).

The TRO has been linked to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, also known as the Tamil Tigers, which the United States has listed as a terrorist group and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has cautioned against.

As a result, the TRO’s applications for registered charity status have been rejected. “[Those accusations] are false,” said Prassana Muhalingam, vice president of the Tamil Student Association.

“TRO is a legitimate organization, and has been helping Sri Lankan people for the past 20 years. The [Tamil] Tigers are helping out back home too, but TRO is a separate effort.”

Muhalingam said that a 100 per cent of the group’s collected donations for the TRO will be distributed among people in Sri Lanka who most need help. He said the Tamil Student Association pledged its initial donations to the TRO at the Tamil university and college student union meeting shortly after the tsunami tragedy on Dec. 26.

The union was created last year and represents Tamil students across Ontario campuses. The TRO was formed in 1985 as a self-help organization for the Tamil refugees in South India fleeing from Sri Lanka at that time.

It has since established branches in 25 countries, including Canada, and its goal is to provide relief and development for the Tamil people affected by the ongoing violent clashes in the country. Sri Lanka’s armed forces and the minority Tamil Tiger guerrillas have waged a civil war in the northeast regions of the island nation since the early 1980s.

The conflict has not failed to interfere with the humanitarian efforts in the region since the tsunami devastation. Major aid groups working in Sri Lanka have accused Tamil Tiger rebels of intercepting shipments of supplies to stricken areas they control. The Tamils have accused the Sri Lankan government of similar actions.

The Tamils are allowing only the TRO to distribute aid, which causes problems for some international aid organizations. “When we work in [Sri Lanka], we have to work in co-operation with [the Tigers],” said Candiah Lingam, TRO’s Toronto office co ordinator. “None of our money goes to them. We work in the same area, that’s all.

The important thing is that we are recognized by the Sri Lankan government as a charity organization,” he said. The Tamil Student Association estimates that it has raised $3,000 in 3 days for the TRO so far.

They have also joined the Blue and Gold Ribbon campaign and have started helping RyeSAC raise money for the Canadian Red Cross’s tsunami relief efforts.

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