5/19/09

LTTE Claims Prabhakaran is Alive and Safe

. 5/19/09

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels today denied the Government’s claims that their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran had been killed by the military yesterday.

"Our beloved leader is alive and safe. He will continue to lead the quest for dignity and freedom for the Tamil people," the Tigers' chief of international relations, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, said in a statement carried on the pro-rebel Tamilnet website.

Mr Pathmanathan gave no indication of the whereabouts of Prabhakaran, who was the prime architect of a 26-year war that claimed at least 70,000 lives.

Military officials said yesterday that Velupillai Prabhakaran had been killed after he was ambushed by Army commandos as he made a desperate attempt to break through Government lines in an ambulance.

Prabhakaran, who had sworn never to be taken alive, was badly burnt when his vehicle burst into flames, officials said. No pictures were released of his body and DNA tests were ordered to prove his identity.

The Tigers' claims came as the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse announced the "complete defeat" of the rebels and vowed to press ahead with a "homegrown political solution" to end ethnic divisions between the majority Sinhalese population and the minority Tamils.

Addressing Parliament, Mr Rajapakse said the government now controlled “every inch” of the island state and had rid the island nation of “terrorism” after crushing the rebels on Monday.

Government forces said yesterday that they found 300 bodies strewn over the 100 metre by 100 metre redoubt where the last Tiger troops had hunkered down. The pro-Tiger Tamilnet website said the military had carried out a “determined massacre”.

Reporters were not allowed near the conflict zone to witness the aftermath first hand.

In the north of Sri Lanka, fears for the well-being of an estimated 300,000 civilians displaced by the conflict escalated after The Times learned that the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross – the only aid organisations allowed to operate in the conflict zone – were blocked access to a large proportion of them on Saturday.

“It appears that the Government does not want us to see the condition of these people or witness the procedures it uses to screen them for possible escaped rebels,” a senior international aid worker said.

The internment camps, which are surrounded in barbed wire and have been dubbed “welfare villages” by the Government, had already triggered concerns among humanitarian organisations.

But the mood of the Sri Lankan Government was triumphant, with officials comparing the defeat of the Tigers to the feat of landing a man on the moon.

On Galle Face Green, a sprawling patch of grass facing the Indian Ocean in the heart of Colombo’s financial district, a relaxed posse of Sri Lankan soldiers, some in bright red ceremonial dress, chatted among themselves as they ran a fresh national flag up a pole yesterday afternoon.

The huge new flag was being installed in readiness for the formal declaration of victory over the Tamil Tigers by the nation’s president Mahinda Rajapakse. A grand televised statement is slated for this morning to coincide with the opening of Parliament, the soldiers explained.

“We are very happy. The whole country is very happy that the war is over. Some thought the LTTE was undefeatable but our President proved them wrong,” an officer told The Times, beaming a dazzling smile while cradling his automatic rifle.

The monsoon rains that rolled into Colombo last night did not quash the street celebrations held today to mark the death of the Government’s nemesis.

At his height the militant Prabhakaran built the Tigers into one of the most deadliest terrorist organisations in the world.

He pioneered the use of suicide bombers, plotted the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister, in 1991 and at one time commanded about a third of Sri Lanka as he strove to build a separate Tamil state in the north of the country.

His campaign for an ethnic Tamil homeland, which he said would free the ethnic minority from the oppression of Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese Buddhist majority, would cost more than 70,000 lives over 26 years.

Even Sri Lankans critical of the Government admitted yesterday that most of the country is delighted with the defeat of the rebels. There were also urgent calls, however, for a political solution to avoid new terror strikes by radicalised Tamils angry at the treatment of their community.

“The majority of Sri Lankans feel a sense of relief and joy at the Army’s victory,” said Lal Wickrematunge, the managing editor of the Sunday Leader, a newspaper founded by his brother Lasantha, who was assassinated in January after he criticised the Government.

Mr Wickrematunge added: “The thing is, nobody is taking into account the attitude of the oppressed minorities.”

Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils were favoured under British rule, but in the 1950s, a Sinhalese-dominated Government began to pass laws that benefitted the majority Sinhalese population.

“Much depends on the path the Sri Lankan Government takes from here,” a Western diplomat said. “We hope it will not engage in ethic, nationalistic triumphalism. The Tamils must be included in the political process.”
Source: Times Online





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