Page last updated at 15:27 GMT, Saturday, 7 March 2009

Tamil family proud of son's 'sacrifice'

By Julian Joyce and Dan Bell
BBC News

Murugathasan Varnakulasingham
Mr Varnakulasingham wanted to draw attention to Sri Lanka's civil war

The UK-based family of a young Tamil man who set himself on fire in protest at the treatment of his countrymen in Sri Lanka have said they are proud of his actions.

Thousands of Tamils living in the UK and beyond attended the funeral on Saturday in Northolt, west London, of Murugathasan Varnakulasingham, 26, who travelled to Switzerland last month to kill himself in front of the United Nations building in Geneva.

Mr Varnakulasingham, a computing graduate who worked part-time in a supermarket, had attended demonstrations to protest against the Sri Lankan military's war against the Tamil Tigers.

The rebels are fighting for a Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island.

Thousands of people have been killed, and thousands more displaced on the island since fighting escalated after 2005.

I decided to sacrifice my life ... The flames over my body will be a torch to guide you through the liberation path
Murugathasan Varnakulasingham's suicide letter

Mr Varnakulasingham's brother-in-law Thavaroopan Sinnathamby, 33, said: "He was a very lovely guy and we miss him a lot, but he did this for the country.

"He was a sensitive guy. He was a refugee in his own country before he came here, so he knew the pain of what the people were going through.

"He'd go to the demonstrations and no-one was bothering and he wanted to make an impact. I think he wanted to give his life, we feel proud for that."

Before he doused himself in petrol and set himself alight in the Place des Nations in Geneva, Mr Varnakulasingham wrote a five-page letter.

It read: "We Tamils, displaced and all over the world, loudly raised our problems and asked for help before [the] international community in your own language for three decades.

"But nothing happened... So I decided to sacrifice my life... The flames over my body will be a torch to guide you through the liberation path."

Copycat suicides

The young man's family, said Mr Sinnathamby, did not know in advance of his suicide plans.

He said: "We had no idea. If we did know, we would not have let him go."

He said the first they heard there was something wrong was when friends and family started calling up asking where he was.

Then friends started calling to say they had seen his brother-in-law's name on the internet.

The family checked online and on a Tamil news website, where they saw his name and date of birth.

"Unfortunately, it was true," said Mr Sinnathamby.

Mr Varnakulasingham's death appears to have inspired at least one other "copycat" suicide attempt in the UK - a man thought to be a Tamil who tried to set himself alight outside Downing Street last month.

Security tight

Previously there were at least two other reported incidents of attempted self-immolation in the UK by Tamils, and there have also been more than a dozen other suicides-by-fire in India and worldwide.

There are estimated to be about 250,000 Tamils living in the UK - many of them refugees of Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war between the Tamil Tigers and the majority Sinhalese government.

Speaking before the funeral, Thaya Idaikkadar, chairman of the British Tamil Councillors and Associates group said security would be tight.

On Saturday afternoon, after most mourners had paid their respects, a Scotland Yard spokesman said there had been a police presence at the funeral but there were no reports of disturbances.

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