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Tamil newspaper vandalized after publisher warned of trouble

The phone call came at 7:30 yesterday morning: A blocked number and unknown voice on Logan Logendralingam's cellphone.

"They said, 'Okay, your friends went to Colombo and met the president of Sri Lanka - the enemy of Tamils who killed 40,000 innocent people. Go to your office: There is a message for you.' "

So he went to the Uthayan newspaper's offices, a 15-minute drive from his Scarborough home. The publisher said he had been expecting something like this after a week of angry phone calls - fallout from a meeting last week of Tamil-Canadian leaders with high-ranking Sri Lankan officials, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

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But that didn't make what Mr. Logendralingam found any easier to bear: A sea of glass shards littering the parking lot of the Progress Road office, and a gaping hole left where the double-plated glass windows used to be.

Nothing was taken, and Mr. Logendralingam said it doesn't look as though whoever smashed the windows even went inside.

"Not only the glass is broken - my heart is broken," he said. "It's a painful incident. ... I was shocked and sad and frustrated."

Mr. Logendralingam said it will probably take as much as $12,000 to replace the smashed windows, which have been boarded up with plywood.

Staff Sergeant Kevin Murrell said the Toronto Police Force's 43 Division got the call at 9 a.m. and an investigation is continuing, but is in the early stages: They have no leads apart from the unidentified morning caller, and although they've put a call out for information no witnesses have come forward.

"This is fairly rare, these kinds of things. It's obviously someone who's taken issue with the fact that somebody has supported an individual they don't support. They've taken it upon themselves to damage these windows as a result of it, which is obviously childish and doesn't make much sense."

Staff Sgt. Murrell said the incident could have occurred any time between 7 p.m. Saturday evening and yesterday morning when Mr. Logendralingam got the call.

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It wasn't the first time the local Tamil newspaper, which publishes on Fridays and has a circulation of about 10,000, has come under fire: Since Mr. Logendralingam founded it 15 years ago, he says he has gotten plenty of angry phone calls for not being vocal enough in support of an independent Tamil homeland.

Three years ago, the same thing happened at his old office on Ellesmere Road. Then, the smashed glass was in response to an editorial he wrote criticizing politicized violence among Tamil youth.

The recent act of vandalism, and its apparent link to the Canada-Sri Lanka Business Council's controversial co-operation with the Sri Lankan government, has touched on the much larger issue of how best to rebuild the Tamil homeland, and whether President Rajapaska is sincere in his desire to work with the country's Tamil community as tens of thousands remain in internment camps.

Kula Sellathurai, prominent Tamil businessman and president of the Canada-Sri Lanka Business Council, argues it's time to work with President Rajapaksa's government to help rebuild the shattered northern region of the island, which had been chronically underdeveloped well before the latest conflict.

"[Mr. Rajapaksa]said he's willing to resolve the Tamil and ethnic issues in Sri Lanka; he wants our help, as foreigners, to help to invest and rebuild."

Last week's trip took them from the capital of Colombo to Jaffna in the north and the Tamil refugee camps around Vavuniya. Mr. Sellathurai said he was encouraged by what he encountered: The tens of thousands of Sri Lankan army troops are seen as a benign force rather than a hostile occupation.

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"They're carrying guns, but they're not harassing people," he said. "People in the outside world are still carrying a 30-year-old mentality."

Manjula Selvarajah takes issue with that: It's one thing to want to support the internally displaced Tamil community, said the media co-ordinator for the Canadian Tamil Congress; it's quite another to do so through a government that was accused by both Tamils and international organizations of human-rights violations and war crimes well after the Tamil Tigers were defeated in May, 2009.

"We are concerned about the government that's in place right now, because they have a record of suppression of the press, they have a record of possibly war crimes," she said. "We're concerned they would sit down and be meeting with someone who has this kind of a record."

But none of that justifies yesterday's act of vandalism, she said: The attack on press freedom flies in the face of everything her organization is protesting in Sri Lanka.

"An act of vandalism is wrong. And if you consider all the issues that media face in Sri Lanka, both Sinhalese and Tamil journalists ... it's even more vexing to see something like this happen."

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