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Tamil Tiger leader alive but surrounded, says military

Video by Sarah DRURY

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-05-18

The Sri Lankan military announced on Monday that the leader of the island's Tamil Tigers was "alive but surrounded" by government troops, after claiming earlier that three senior rebel leaders had been killed in the conflict zone.

The leader of the Tamil Tigers is alive but totally surrounded by government troops in a small jungle area, a spokesman for the Sri Lankan military said Monday.

Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said a major military operation was underway to get Vellupillai Prabhakaran, 54, whose son was killed by special forces commandos on Monday, along with several key aides.

"He is there and we have surrounded him -- it is a 360-degree cordon and he has no escape," Nanayakkara said.

 

Three senior militants "killed"

 

Sri Lanka's military said Monday that troops had killed three senior Tamil Tiger militants and found the body of the son of the rebels' leader in mopping-up operations after the movement's defeat.
  
The defence ministry said one of the Tigers was the head of its political wing.
  

A day after announcing they were silencing their guns, the last remnants of what was once one of Asia's most feared guerrilla armies are cornered up in a tiny patch of jungle in Sri Lanka's northeast.
  
Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said some rebels continued to offer resistance as troops conducted "mopping-up operations" in the area.
  
He said security forces had found the body of Prabhakaran's 24-year-old son Charles Anthony during those operations.
  
The other senior figures were political chief B. Nadesan, the head of the Tigers' defunct peace secretariat, S. Puleedevan, and their eastern leader, S. Ramesh, the defence ministry said.
  
Sri Lanka has vowed to kill or capture remnants of the Tiger army, with an intensive search underway Monday for Prabhakaran.
  
Nanayakkara said Prabhakaran's fate was unknown, adding "we have not found him dead or alive yet, but we know what we will do when we get him."
  
In a dramatic announcement, the guerrillas acknowledged Sunday that their decades-old battle for an independent ethnic homeland had reached its "bitter end" -- signalling Asia's longest running civil war was all but over.
  
"We have decided to silence our guns," Selvarasa Pathmanathan, the Tigers' chief of international relations, said in a statement.
  
"Our only regrets are for the lives lost and that we could not hold out for longer."
  
He said the rebel leadership, including Prabhakaran, was still holed up in an area of less than 60 acres of jungle on the northeast coast, surrounded by government forces.
  
But his appeals for peace talks -- rather than a surrender -- were flatly rejected by the government, and the defence ministry said soldiers were being sent in to crush the diehard remnants and recapture "every inch of land."
  
Sri Lanka's hawkish president, Mahinda Rajapakse, has prorogued parliament and will open a new session Tuesday with an address that will officially mark the ending of the war.
  
The conflict has left more than 70,000 dead from pitched battles, suicide attacks, bomb strikes and assassinations.
  
The capital Colombo, which has been frequently hit by Tiger suicide attacks over the past quarter century, saw street celebrations which lasted well into Sunday night.
  
Authorities are determined to capture, kill or recover Prabhakaran's body amid fears his escape may lead to an attempt to rebuild the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and usher in a new cycle of violence.
  
Rebel official Pathmanathan, believed to be in hiding in a Southeast Asian country, told Britain's Channel 4 television that Prabhakaran, who has lived underground since 1972, was still alive Sunday along with 2,000 fighters.
  
But there have also been reports he may have committed suicide by blowing himself up -- making sure his body is not found and that his aura lives on -- or that he may have slipped away by boat or even submarine.
  
The Sri Lankan government's moment of triumph has also come at the cost of thousands of innocent lives lost in indiscriminate shelling, according to the United Nations. The UN's rights body now wants a war crimes probe.
  
The International Committee of the Red Cross, the only neutral organisation that has been allowed to work in the war zone, has for its part described "an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe."
  
But Sri Lanka has shrugged off the international pressure.
  
"There was no bloodbath as some people feared," Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe told reporters. "Everybody has come out safely and they are being looked after by the government."
  

 

Date created : 2009-05-18

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