Colombo celebrates 'victory' holiday

Sri Lanka marked its victory over Tamil Tigers with a national holiday as the army carried out "clearing operations" in the island's north-eastern tip, where the Tamil Tigers made their last stand.


AFP - Sri Lanka celebrated victory over the Tamil Tigers with a national holiday on Wednesday as the army hunted down fugitive rebels, shooting dead eight thought to have escaped from the final battle.

Hundreds of troops were deployed in the Muliyawaikal area where the corpse of Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was found after the fighting ended with a showdown in the jungle on Monday, defence officials said.

"They are doing clearing operations," defence spokesman Lakshman Hulugalle said as more bodies were gathered for identification.

The eight rebels were shot more than 130 kilometres (80 miles) south of where the Tigers made their last stand in the far northeast, the army said.

The killings were the first since the government claimed victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and police stepped up security across the island to guard against revenge attacks from surviving guerrillas.

More than 400 dead rebels, including several female fighters, have been recovered from the battlefield where Prabhakaran died, according to military officials.

Prabhakaran's eldest son, Charles Anthony, was among those killed in the area, but the military had no information about the leader's wife, Madiwadani, or their other two children.

"The process of identifying the other Tiger dead bodies is now going on and we want to see if any other close relatives or associates of Prabhakaran are among the dead," a military official said.

The defence ministry said seven more dead Tiger leaders had been identified by Wednesday afternoon.

Sri Lankan television repeatedly broadcast images of what it said was the body of Prabhakaran, showing the upper section of a corpse which was dressed in camouflage fatigues.

The face was intact, with the eyes wide open, and bore a clear resemblance to the stocky rebel leader.

While Sri Lanka marked the end of decades of war with a national holiday, the United Nations has said victory came at the cost of many innocent lives.

The UN and human rights groups have blamed indiscriminate shelling by the military for causing many civilian casualties, while accusing the rebels of using tens of thousands of people as a "human shield."

Relief agencies have complained that access to overcrowded government-run camps housing tens of thousands of displaced Tamil civilians in the northeast has been further restricted in recent days.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is to visit Sri Lanka on Friday and Saturday to push for reconciliation on the mainly Sinhalese island.

He told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday he was concerned about the welfare and safety of civilians, and said that any serious allegations of war crimes "should be properly investigated."

Under international pressure to reach out to the Tamil minority, President Mahinda Rajapakse vowed on Tuesday that a political solution to the island's deep-rooted ethnic divisions would be found.

"All should live with equal rights. They should live without any fear or doubt," he told parliament. "Let us all be united."

Neighbouring India was sending national security adviser M. K. Narayanan and foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon for talks with Rajapakse, officials said.

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