A TAMIL from Harrow poured petrol over his head and burned himself to death in protest at the civil war which is devastating large parts of the population of Sri Lanka.

Murukathasan Vanakulasingam left his family last Tuesday to fly to Switzerland and take part in a mass protest against the attacks on Tamils by the Sri Lankan government.

But on Thursday night, hours before he was expected to fly home and return to his job, the 27-year-old computer science graduate set fire to himself outside the gates of the United Nations headquarters in Geneva.

He left a letter ten metres away, explaining he had sacrificed his life to draw attention to the plight of his fellow Tamils who are caught up in an increasingly bloody civil war.

Murukathasan's family found out about his death when it was reported on websites, and they spoke to the Harrow Times about the anguish of finding out he had taken his own life.

His sister Arumdevi, 24, said: “All he did for the last few weeks was watch television and get angrier and angrier that nobody was doing anything about how many people are dying. He was very sad.

“Everyone is calling and saying he is equal to gold, they are praising what he has done.”

Murukathasan lived with his family in Grange Avenue, in Belmont, since 2000, and had been working for the last few months as a cashier at the local Sainsburys.

He was expected back at work on Friday, but when he did not return, his family started scouring the Internet for any news of him.

The protest Murukathasan went to join was sparked by reports 120 Tamil women were forced by Sri Lankan soldiers to abort their children.

The government and Tamil Tigers, a separatist guerilla organisation, have been embroiled in a 25-year civil war, with the Tigers fighting for an independent state in north and east Sri Lanka.

In recent months, the country's government has started an aggressive crackdown to try to win the war, but this has led to the deaths of many Tamils.

His brother Velmurugam, 24, said his brother should be remembered as a martyr who died for the people of his country.

He said: “He wanted to protest about what he was seeing happen in Sri Lanka, but nobody knew he was going to do this.

“We are sad because we have lost a life, but we are very proud of what my brother has done.

“There is a genocide going on, 100 people are dying every day. But the international community doesn't want to do anything about it.

“We want there to be freedom for the people of Sri Lanka because that will be the price of his sacrifice.”

Murukathasan's father has flown out to Geneva to identify the body and bring his son home to Harrow, and his mother Puveneswary has been inconsolable since hearing of her son's death.

The Tamil community is planning a memorial service and funeral in Harrow, when it is thought as many as 50,000 could come to pay their last respects.

Councillor Thaya Idaikaddar, who represents Roxeth ward and is a leader in the international Tamil community, said: “Even though I appreciate and admire his courage and what he has done, I am pleading with people not to do it.

“We don't want any further incidents like this, we don't want any more loss of human life.”