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Last Updated: Friday, 17 October, 2003, 11:31 GMT 12:31 UK
Violent legacy of Sri Lankan war
By Chris Summers
BBC News Online

As two men are jailed for life for murder, BBC News Online investigates what is behind the spiral of violence which has claimed the lives of 10 young men in London's 80,000-strong Tamil community in the past three years.

Many of the young Tamil men growing up on the streets of London have emerged from a world of violence.

In 1983 the Tamil Tigers launched a rebellion in a bid to gain a homeland - Eelam - in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

Twenty years later a ceasefire was finally declared and autonomy was promised.

Tamil victims
31 Oct 2000: Manah Kumar, Edmonton
17 Jun 2001: Aravinthan Muthukumarasamy, Ealing
6 Nov 2001: Sellathurai Balasingham, Mitcham
19 Feb 2002: Supenthar Ramachandran, Kingsbury
22 Apr 2002: Suresh Selvarajah, Wembley
5 Dec 2002: Navalogan Navaratnam, Edmonton
19 Mar 2003: Thilipan Thangavidel, Ilford
8 Jun 2003: Partheepan Balasingham, Wembley
8 Jun 2003: Kishokumar Balachandiran, Wanstead
30 Aug 2003: Asan Ratnasergam, Wembley

But in the meantime 60,000 people had died and a whole generation of young Sri Lankan Tamils had become desensitised to extreme violence.

Many of those men and youths moved to London as refugees.

In an effort to retain some sense of identity many of them sought out friends and relatives from the same village or small town.

Some set up gangs and engaged in petty crime, mainly credit card fraud.

But in early 2000 the friction between these gangs finally boiled over.

Minor slights and issues of "respect" became exaggerated out of all proportion.

In the last three years 10 young Tamil men have been beaten, stabbed, shot or burned to death in London.

In June 21-year-old Senthamil Thillainathan was jailed for life for killing Supenthar Ramachandran, 18.

Mr Ramachandran was held against his will and made to buy his assailants a meal before being beaten to death, covered in petrol and set alight.

On Friday five men were sentenced in connection with the murder of Suresh Kumar Selvarajah, in Wembley, north west London.

Senthamil Thillainathan
Thillainathan forced his victim to buy him a meal before killing him
At a press briefing earlier this month Detective Chief Superintendent Andrew Murphy said the violence was "escalating" as gangs fragmented and power struggles developed.

Buvanasundarajah Thlagarajah, chairman of Newham United Tamil Association, told BBC News Online: "We are shocked by this violence.

"To some extent we understand it but we don't condone it. We are a peace-loving community."

Mr Thlagarajah said: "A lot of these boys are caught between two cultures and that means they are neither here or there."

He said the community welcomed the recent launch of Operation Enver, a police offensive against the gangs, and he said he felt the violence would end "when these youths realise they are on the wrong path".

Villages which spawned gangs
Valvettithurai (VVT)

Mr Murphy, who is leading Operation Enver, pointed out recently that the trouble stemmed from a tiny minority of London's Tamil community.

He said: "There is no more than 150 people involved, out of a community of 80,000."

Mr Murphy praised the response from London Tamils and said more meetings were planned with community leaders.

But Anandhi Suryaprakasan, of the BBC's Tamil Service, questioned whether police were getting through to the right people.

Civil war generation

She told BBC News Online there was a distinct difference between Sri Lankan Tamils who came to the UK in peacetime and those who came after 1983.

Ms Suryaprakasan said: "Those who came before 1983 were mainly students or professionals, the elite of Tamil society, who came here to better themselves.

A lot of these boys are caught between two cultures and that means they are neither here or there
Buvanasundarajah Thlagarajah
Newham United Tamil Association
"But most of those who came after 1983 were refugees. They are mostly uneducated - a lot of the schools were destroyed in the war - and come from remote villages.

"But that is not to say they are not successful. Many of them have got rich running petrol stations, grocery, jewellery and sari shops."

The gangs have recruited youngsters with roots in towns such as Valvettithurai - known as VVT - and Urundari.

Ms Suryaprakasan said the youths had grown up in a society where violence was endemic, and many of them were deeply suspicious or antagonistic towards people in uniforms, who remind them of the loathed Sri Lankan Army.

At the recent briefing Mr Murphy stood in front of a huge array of guns, samurai swords, hatchets and daggers which has been recovered since Operation Enver started.

He said people were being murdered in retaliation for minor incidents, such as damaging a car, and added: "The level of violence being used is completely disproportionate to the actual offence given."

Suresh Kumar Selvarajah's killers may have been brought to justice but the Metropolitan Police cannot be sure they will not soon be dealing with a 11th murder inquiry involving the Tamil community.

Two jailed for murder
17 Oct 03  |  UK
Tamils preying on Tamils
25 May 02  |  UK News


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